The NSA and Game Companies

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This is a thought that has been crossing my mind recently. Revelations over the past several months have shown extensive data collection by the NSA and GCHQ in the name of stopping terrorism. For example, one of the programs revealed is PRISM, where the NSA gains data on users directly from the likes of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Leaks say that 95% of data collected by the NSA is via PRISM.

So the question remains, to what extent are games companies involved with the NSA? I may not have been paying attention, but I haven't seen anything on this question from games media, despite Microsoft being named as part of PRISM, which includes information from Skype and

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. "For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption."Microsoft's co-operation was not limited to An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI - which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism - to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.
This is an important question. The games industry is heavily pushing online connected games, often tied to publisher or console specific services that include many "social" features including friends lists, instant messaging, clan/group features, and with Steam and Wii U we now have near complete twitter and Facebook timeline clones.

This isn't about the NSA wanting to know about what kinds of games you play, but about who you are connected to and what you say on those services. The NSA decides what private information they can look at and keep based on connections to terrorist suspects up to 2-3 "hops" from that person. Combining your social circles between Facebook, Steam and XBLA accounts may increase that net drastically, as well as the potential for these servies to hand over your private messages (and glitch screenshots).

We also know the NSA exploits security issues in various software and services, and in some cases has backdoors into such systems, whether those companies are complicit or not.

So are videogame companies involved with the NSA on any level? To what extent may they have been asked to hand over infromation under FISA court orders? And how succeptible are the multitude of online and DRM services to attacks?

tl:dr wtf gamz jurnalizm, ask questions

( Edited 16.09.2013 15:20 by Modplan Man )

Well to some extent questions come where there is an easily identifiable objective.

Why would journalists look into this Outlook thing? Because it's pretty obvious an information collection agency would be interested in reading emails. Same goes for Skydrive - what sort of files is the individual sharing? The latest Justin Timberlake soundtrack, or "how2makebomb.pdf"? Obviously the NSA would want to access that.

But I'm not sure the feds are too interested in my K/D ratio in Halo 4. The only thing I could think of is if they wanted voice data from XBL/PSN conversations, which I suppose could potentially have some value.

Jacob4000 said:

But I'm not sure the feds are too interested in my K/D ratio in Halo 4. The only thing I could think of is if they wanted voice data from XBL/PSN conversations, which I suppose could potentially have some value.

Something else that occured to me though, in that consoles (Xbox and Playstation in particular)  are being pushed more and more as general entertainment devices, not just gaming. Aside from Microsofts almost ludicrous obsession with TV, they aren't being presented as solely game devices any more, with all the consoles now having other entertainment services available.  That may also have an effect on how desirable info from PSN, XBL and Miiverse (as well as Steam) would be to the NSA, as they become seen as more general purpose communication in the same way Skype, instant messaging and email are.

And if you look at how the NSA want to also build a profile of suspected terrorists may be in communication with, adding in friends lists and communications from those services increases the net that much further for them to grab info on the public.

I suppose I was thinking a bit more in terms of the now than the future. You're right - as the services provided by game companies become more all encompassing and enmeshed in your "digital life", the data they accumulate on you will grow (and thus grow in value). This in turn would make that data undoubtedly useful to the NSA in building a sort of dossier on a subject.

So right now in the moment it might not make much sense for the NSA to be involved with the current ecosystems, but in the future when a subject is telling his XB One to search the internet for "bomb making videos", and then sharing the link with associates on his XBL friends list...maybe it all becomes a bit more relevant to what the NSA is trying to do.

If the NSA hasn't worked their backdoor magic yet, it's probably only a matter of time.

Well there could be a few reasons. Lets start with the 911 attacks in the US. In the investigation it came out that the terroists took flight lessons. So take MS FLight Simulator for example. It could in theory train you well enough to carry out such an attack. Or take sniper games that have excellent bullet physics. COD could allow someone to test military strategies out. The point I am trying to make is that in theory some games could serve as training grounds for actions in real life. Or simply just communications . Hell it would be possible to use the wii u's in game message system in zombi u to pass messages that were coded. Or mii verse for that matter. It would be easy to code a message to hide in the mii verse.

Historically stenography, encryption, and communications have been a topic long before technology came along. In this modern era there are just more ways to communicate and hence more ways to monitor.

The Snowden leaks showed governments are willing to pay to help with surveliance. So the NSA may help finance the burden of archiving all the digital communications.

So I wouldn't be surprised if one day we see leaks that video games companies also give direct/indirect access to stored or real time commnucations.

And now it turns out the NSA and GCHQ have been spying on gamers.

The agencies, the documents show, have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network, which has more than 48 million players. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users.


Not actually knowing whether terrorists were playing games was not enough to keep the intelligence agencies out of them, however. According to the document, GCHQ had already made a "vigorous effort" to exploit games, including "exploitation modules" against Xbox Live and World of Warcraft.


The UK agency did not stop at World of Warcraft: by September a memo noted GCHQ had "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live".

Edit: Also worth reading the NY Times article too:

( Edited 09.12.2013 19:29 by Modplan Man )

The general rule in this day and age:

If it uses electricity it is monitored.

For secure communications use carrier pidgeons.

If no-one else will then I'll have to:


Saw this on eurogamer a week or so ago

(not really news just like snowdens not really a whistleblower but we can't all be know-it-alls, thank god for stupid people eh? otherwise we'd have torn each other to shreds long before now).

Haven't bothered to read the guardian article. Guardian rankles.

Modplan man graces us with his presence (no hint of irony) and this is as much debate as you animals can muster?

My original thoughts back when I read this thread: FULL BORE!

Of course they are it- ... well... it stinks.

See above comment.

EDIT: spelling and grammer (most of)

( Edited 08.03.2014 22:43 by KingDom )

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