Government Continues To Search Virtual Worlds For Terrorists

from the anyone-look-on-America's-Army? dept

A few weeks back, we pointed to a ridiculous report from the federal government's Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, claiming that places like Second Life could be breeding grounds for terrorists. Why Second Life as opposed to any standard web chat room? That's not at all clear. Salon has gone through and thoroughly debunked the notion that terrorists are likely to use Second Life, noting that the so-called "experts" who made the claims clearly had never used Second Life. Yet, don't think that means the government won't keep up its fear-mongering over the issue. Wired is reporting that the U.S. intelligence community is working on software to detect terrorists infiltrating World of Warcraft. Initially, the program will focus on just profiling the behavior of people in such virtual worlds, but down the road they hope that it will automatically identify those likely to be terrorists. I wonder if they'll use similar programs in the Army's own America's Army online video game?

Filed Under: second life, terrorism, virtual worlds, world of warcraft

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  1. identicon
    4-80-sicks, 26 Feb 2008 @ 10:05am

    I'm a terrist

    When I play video games I try to break everything. If I can hit it, cut it, or blow it up, I do it, either looking for secrets, testing the interactivity of the environment, or just screwing around. Lots of people do the same. Anticipate 99 (or 100)% false positives.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Eric the Grey, 26 Feb 2008 @ 10:06am

    I wonder if I should worry...

    if my Paladin/Engineer shouts "Down with the system" every time he throws a bomb in WoW.

    I expect to hear a knock on my door sometime soon...


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Matt Bennett, 26 Feb 2008 @ 10:14am

    Man, I'm in trouble. I'm only 50% asshole in realife, but in WOW, I'm hardcore. I should be put down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    erik l, 26 Feb 2008 @ 10:17am


    if they can make a program that can tell the difference between regular customers being assholes and terrorists being assholes, ill be fucking amazed

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2008 @ 10:26am

    I think we should be trying to get more terrorists into WoW. After all, if they're busy farming gold or looking for epics then they won't have time to commit any terrorist acts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    mdmadph (profile), 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:03am

    Re: WoW....

    Yeah, the terrorists in WoW will act nice, use proper english, and politely ask you _before_ trying to get your signature on their guild petition for "Jihad R Us" -- a clear giveaway that they're not from here!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    WoW Addict, 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:22am

    Omg.. we are going to crash our fly mount's into SW!!! For the horde! 72 virgin taurens ftw!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    eoj, 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:24am

    Oblig. Tick Quote

    g-man: We're from the Government
    Tick: No Thanks, we've got all the govt. we need.

    I think the US has more than enough at the moment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Alimas, 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:31am

    I hide in Halo!

    Ah ha! I'm a terrorist in Halo! I've outsmarted the government into checking Second Life instead!
    I kill and destroy hundreds regularly by running over to their base with guns and explosives and reeking havoc!
    Fear me!
    I'll come to a Halo server near you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Overcast, 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:44am

    All your second life are belong to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Keith, 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:44am

    Oh noez.

    That means all the horde will be flagged as terrorists because they look different, except the blood elves.
    Sorry horde =/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Donuts, 26 Feb 2008 @ 11:54am


    Is this the damn Communist Red Scare all over again? The government will never change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Saragon, 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:02pm

    Terrorists, eh?

    Okay, government, I admit it. I admit I'm terrified of the idea of a terrorist rolling up a shaman and running 40-man raids for epic gear. That sounds like a perfect training simulation for a clan of 40 magic-wielding jihadist elves to kill merlocs here in America!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Matt Bennett, 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:02pm

    In all seriousness, I actually do have at least one friend (who, totally coincidentally, is of Iranian descent, speaks fluent Farsi) for whom the only dependable way to reach him is through WoW. I have another (American) who emigrated to Hungary, whom we mostly talk to through WoW.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Trerro, 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:08pm

    This is bogus, but they already know that...

    I had a Guild Wars elementalist/ranger built around disabling players long enough to unload a few ultra powerful fatigue-based spells. I referred to this build frequently as a suicide bomber, as that's basically what it was - the goal was to take down 2 people extremely quickly, but in doing so, I'd rack up so much fatigue that anyone else could easily take me out.

    GW is built heavily on equal sized team vs team combat, so this was a perfectly valid - and effective - strategy. There's no penalty of any kind for dying in pvp combat, and the goal is for your TEAM to win - it doesn't matter whether you personally survive the match. You get immediately resurrected at the end of the round, and if your team wins, everyone gets the reward, regardless of who is and isn't still alive.

    So, what would this software see?
    1. I use a heavily offensive, self-destructive battle tactic, taking out whoever I can with no regard to self-preservation. I probably get some bonus red flags for targeting the healers. :P
    2. The words "suicide" and "bomb" come up quite often in chat, and are a rather accurate description of what's happening - in the GAME.

    Obviously, that's going to raise a very strong, very false, positive.

    This is hardly a unique case. Games are GAMES - something you play for fun. Strategic games are all about winning at any "cost" - because really, there is no cost. Nothing dies that can't be respawned, nothing gets blown up that can't be rebuilt, often in minutes. Because of this, all kinds of tactics that if done in real life would be abhorant and probably labeled terroristic in the virtual world are simply a player going for an offensive strategy.

    It gets even worse with games that actually involve real role play, and include player-run governments. Plenty of nice, well-adjusted, friendly people in real life like to play evil characters in games, including assassins and other roles that would be labeled terroristic. Indeed, their CHARACTER very well may be known as a terrorist in the game world! After all, if the only evil characters in the game are NPCs, things can get pretty boring... especially if the world is supposed to involve a good amount of player vs player combat. Someone needs to be the bad guy, and game creators usually make sure there's enough direct appeal to being an evil character that a decent percentage of their players will do so.

    A person's choice of battle tactics, character role, both, etc, say nothing about what that person does in real life. Hell, most people aren't even consistent. I normally play good characters in RP games, but that doesn't mean I'll never roll up a villain here and there for a change of pace.

    Of course, the government is fully aware that trying to link in game evil to any real world evil is totally bogus. I highly doubt that's the goal though. After all, when we stop living in a culture of fear, BS like the Patriot Act will get thrown out, and the US will actually start to go back to the principles it was founded on. There's nothing the current administration would like to see less. As long as they can throw "orange alerts" and "Oh noes! Online worlds training terrorists!" announcements, enough of the public won't resist them pissing on the constitution that they'll be able to do so successfully. It will work only for so long though, and I think at this point that a large enough majority of US citizens will have reached the limits of their BS tolerance VERY SOON that the current irrationality are country is running on is finally going to fade out. Either that, or declaring wars all over the place and running our alliances and our economy into the ground will start another depression, and THAT will give people the reality check they need. Either way, in the long run, sanity will reign over the US again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    slide23 (profile), 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:13pm

    Griefers: The New Terrorist

    In other news, the government is rapidly gaining an awareness of an entirely new breed of terrorist: the griefer. Intelligence branches are rapidly mobilizing to address the threat that griefers pose to national security. Budgeting has been allocated to hire 5000 new employees to police Second Life, WoW, Eve Online, and many other MMOGs.

    The TSA has also weighed in, stating their "heavy interest" in protecting airline safety by conducting searches of persons checking into and logging out of the online worlds. Shoes, fluids near keyboards, and all sharp virtual objects will soon be banned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    70 Warrior/ 70 Priest/ 62 Mage, 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:19pm

    I'm gonna start a terrorist guild. What should I call it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:39pm


    I love a lot of your guys' replies.
    @17, I like what poster #6 said, Jihad R Us

    Since they can't empirically prove that there are children playing WoW (I know a lack of proof never stopped them before), what will they say they are doing this for?
    "Think of and protect the gnomes!!!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Old Guy, 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:52pm

    What would they think

    I hadn't been playing very long when a couple of 60 lvl hordies pulled and maintained aggro on a dragon. They dragged it clear into SW where it wreaked havoc. I thought it was brilliant but knowing the gov't...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    :HAn., 26 Feb 2008 @ 12:57pm

    How is this legal?

    How is this even legal? Basically, this means they are intercepting, logging, and analyzing communication between American citizens. How is this different than tapping phone calls between American citizens? Something is very wrong here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    chris (profile), 26 Feb 2008 @ 2:19pm

    Re: This is bogus, but they already know that...

    that's funny. speaking of false positives in virtual worlds:

    when i played tribes (an old team based FPS) many years ago, i would plant plastic explosives on turrets, force fields, and the like to punch a hole in the enemy's defenses. since the turrets often killed you while you were planting your bombs, we would call it suicide bombing. the code word in team chat for a suicide bombing was "jihad". as in, "hey chris, we need a jihad on the tower base". the renegades mod even had a special "suicide det pack" that blew up if you were killed or committed suicide. suicide bombing is very effective when your bombers can respawn almost instantly.

    moving on to asheron's call (an old MMO), i used to play a special kind of mage that didn't use war magic (the only form of truly offensive magic) and instead used hit point drains and attacks that hurt you as well as your opponent called "hecatombs". the nickname for this character template was "the martyr mage".

    the strategy was simple: start at full health, use a hecatomb to hurt your opponent (which hurt you too, but hurts them more), use a drain to recover the damage you just took (hurting them more, and healing you), then fire a hecatomb again. if they were still alive their health was probably too low to drain effectively, so you cast a heal spell to recover more health and threw another hecatomb to finish them off.

    war magic was the most expensive skill in the game. having a mage with a bunch of extra skill points meant you could have really high skills in stuff that mages usually didn't have, like defenses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    dennis parrott, 26 Feb 2008 @ 2:55pm

    you guys are all missing the real point...

    that report was nothing more than a justification for some bunch of bored gubbmint types to be able to play 2nd life at work without getting flak about it!!

    imagine it:
    Boss: you playing 2nd life AGAIN!!!!

    Luser: NO!! I'm looking for terrorists boss!

    Boss: do you really expect me to believe that?

    Luser: Yes! Terrorists are infiltrating 2nd life and using for a base and communication platform. Seriously.

    Boss: Hmmm... Better not take a chance. Carry on soldier!

    It is genius. Luser uses gubbmint assets to play 2nd life all day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Clueby4, 26 Feb 2008 @ 3:49pm

    Looking to sell a Bridge, slightly used located in

    Blizzard can't detected gold farmers, but old fat, bloated and feeble uncle sam is going to catch bogymen. Yea right.

    This planets need PyRe

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2008 @ 10:24pm

    I don't use Second Life, but I bet after seeing this story, someone's gonna create some skyscrapers and 747s...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2008 @ 5:56am

    Re: Lol

    I think I was in SW when you did that....bastard :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    JJ, 7 May 2008 @ 1:08pm

    Re: I'm a terrist

    False positive or not, the US government will still send you to Getmo until they are satisfied they've ruined your life enough for it not to matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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