The Pentagon's World of Warcraft Movie-Plot Threat

In a presentation that rivals any of my movie-plot threat contest entries, a Pentagon researcher is worried that terrorists might plot using World of Warcraft:

In a presentation late last week at the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Conference in Washington, Dr. Dwight Toavs, a professor at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University, gave a bit of a primer on virtual worlds to an audience largely ignorant about what happens in these online spaces. Then he launched into a scenario, to demonstrate how a meatspace plot might be hidden by in-game chatter.
In it, two World of Warcraft players discuss a raid on the "White Keep" inside the "Stonetalon Mountains." The major objective is to set off a "Dragon Fire spell" inside, and make off with "110 Gold and 234 Silver" in treasure. "No one will dance there for a hundred years after this spell is cast," one player, "war_monger," crows.

Except, in this case, the White Keep is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "Dragon Fire" is an unconventional weapon. And "110 Gold and 234 Silver" tells the plotters how to align the game's map with one of Washington, D.C.

I don't know why he thinks that the terrorists will use World of Warcraft and not some other online world. Or Facebook. Or Usenet. Or a chat room. Or e-mail. Or the telephone. I don't even know why the particular form of communication is in any way important.

The article ends with this nice paragraph:

Steven Aftergood, the Federation of the American Scientists analyst who's been following the intelligence community for years, wonders how realistic these sorts of scenarios are, really. "This concern is out there. But it has to be viewed in context. It's the job of intelligence agencies to anticipate threats and counter them. With that orientation, they're always going to give more weight to a particular scenario than an objective analysis would allow," he tells Danger Room. "Could terrorists use Second Life? Sure, they can use anything. But is it a significant augmentation? That's not obvious. It's a scenario that an intelligence officer is duty-bound to consider. That's all."

My guess is still that some clever Pentagon researchers have figured out how to play World of Warcraft on the job, and they're not giving that perk up anytime soon.

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 1:29 PM • 62 Comments

Comments

KaribuSeptember 18, 2008 2:04 PM

I am envious of those people. I just surf discussion boards and security blogs at work. How could I get paid to play WoW also? I have some other games I like as well, such as Dicewars. It gets you hooked.

TamzenSeptember 18, 2008 2:06 PM

If terrorists start playing WoW, they will have to cease doing anything else, stop bathing, eat only pizza, get divorced, etc. We all know how addicting MMOs are :). I mean to get to 70, soon to be level 80 takes a long time. Not that I would know anything about that at all. Nope, not me.

LiarLiarPantsOnFireSeptember 18, 2008 2:22 PM

How else do you keep the lie alive? Tell it everywhere, tell it many times, tell it to all that listen and convincingly. Eventually, it gets believe by some, then more, then who knows what.

Sadly, this may actually inspire terrorists to use such mechanisms. But now they have to waste time watching to see if it actually happens (or hundreds of fake events).

Charles DeckerSeptember 18, 2008 2:36 PM

Ridiculous. For a couple of bucks a month they could buy a private voice server (vent or TS) and just get together and talk.

JJSeptember 18, 2008 2:48 PM

@Charles Decker:
For a couple of bucks a month they could buy a private voice server (vent or TS)

What is a voice server? And where can I buy one?

Jim BurrowsSeptember 18, 2008 2:51 PM

Re: "I don't know why he thinks that the terrorists will use World of Warcraft and not some other online world. Or Facebook. Or ..."

OK. I'll hazard an answer. WoW has order magnitude 10 million users, is very popular in several countries in Asia and Europe. Users often augment online text chat with 3rd party or in game audio chat. Combat and conflict are the normal in game topics of discussion. It thus offers several kinds of cover for the sorts of things that terrorists want to discuss.

Other venues may have as many users, but the combination of text and audio and lots of innocent but violent sounding chatter offer a place where you could easily blend in.

Having said all of that, I would draw a different conclusion than the speaker probably intends. He no doubt would like to see a way to monitor the channel. I, on the other hand, see the fact that WoW is just one very obvious choice among so many as evidence that modern communications is so huge a domain that a clever bad guy can always find a way to mask vital communications.

Spend godzillions of dollars to completely cover WoW, and I'll describe why concealing stegnographic text in porn now that there are numerous sites publishing picture sets with a few dozen 3000x5000 pixel images every couple of days, and people trading bootleg versions of those in websites hosted in places like Russia, is the way to go.

No. If someone wants to hide the few dozen, a few score or even a few hundred messages necessary to discuss the plans for a devastating terrorist plot there will always be some channel that can be used. Being able to identify Wow or bootleg porn as tempting venues doesn't get you very far. Not with millions of innocent players to act as cover.

AnonymousSeptember 18, 2008 2:53 PM

@JJ: WoW players and lots of gamers use VoIP confernce calling software to augment their gaming.

"Ventrilo is comprised of two primary Components: The Client that every end user will need to download, and the Server. Only one person needs to host a Server that all of the other Clients will connect to. Ventrilo is supported on different platforms as well ranging from Microsoft Windows to Apple Manintosh and Linux"

-- http://www.ventrilo.com/download.php

David W.September 18, 2008 2:55 PM

i'm ashamed to be able to point this out, but this is taken verbatim from the woeful b movie plot of War Games 2: The Dead Code :)

Now we've got 'emSeptember 18, 2008 3:00 PM

Easy solution: Simply add the names of all ne'er do wells who still live in their parents basement to the no-fly list.

Problem solved.

Nomen PublicusSeptember 18, 2008 3:24 PM

What a load of rubbish! Everybody knows that terrorists communicate via stenographic messages hidden in pictures of the Grand Canyon posted on Flickr.

Henning MakholmSeptember 18, 2008 3:34 PM

I don't get it.

Presumably the idea of using WoW in particular as a communication form would be that it's a forum where that routinely carries talk of plans for acts of violence. Therefore naive keyword-based scanning for violent words would not single out a group of terrorist from the background.

However, that scenario makes no sense. In order for the example scenario to work, the bad guys must already have agreed on their code using some out-of-game channel (presumed secure enough that the true meanings of the code words can be spoken out loud). Why not keep using that channel for the rest of the planning? Or, if that is not possible, one might just as easily invent a code that sounds innocent enough to be used in fora other than WoW.

Secondly, it seems unlikely that the bulk of communication within a terrorist organization would be about which targets to attack when, the "violent" sort of planning that could conceivably blend into WoW. Most of what the bad guys need to talk about would be about real-world nitty-gritty details of logistics. (Who's bringing the explosives? Where do we meet them? How do we recognize him? Is this guy NN who tells me he is trusted by headquarters lying? Can we use your garage to assemble the device? I scouted out the target; the shrubbery outside the gate has been cut down recently, so it cannot hide a thingamajig that is taller than about 10 cm. If the watchman has not been seen to leave the facility before 4 AM, call such-and-such cell number. Et cetera ad infinitum).

Most of this would not be easy to disguise of in-game planning without a much more elaborate code than would be needed for other pretexts.

Brandioch ConnerSeptember 18, 2008 3:36 PM

... and ... ?

Seriously, WTF? I'm not seeing anything there that would not ALREADY have had to have been communicated.

The major objective is to set off a "Dragon Fire spell" inside, and make off with "110 Gold and 234 Silver" in treasure.

So how do the participants know what a "Dragon Fire spell" is supposed to represent?

Oh, they already communicated that on a DIFFERENT MEDIUM.

So why not continue to use that OTHER medium? Wouldn't it be easier than having people take notes on what term is code for what item? Or flipping back and forth in websites? Or getting confused about whether "Dragon Fire" is the same a "Demon Fire" or "Daemon Fire" or "Holy Fire" or "Flame Strike"?

You're right, Bruce. This is an excuse for "agents" to play WoW on public time with public resources. I bet they rock at PVP when they can justify an OC3 directly to Blizzard's servers.

Bat21September 18, 2008 3:40 PM

Aware that North Vietnamese radio monitors understood English, the radio message from a forward air controller in the area told Clark, an Idaho native: “Get to the Snake, make like Esther Williams and float to Boston” – go to the river and swim east.

Hambleton, however, was much farther from the river than Clark and would have to maneuver around enemy-occupied villages and gun emplacements.

Rescue planners, who had discovered that Hambleton was one of the best golfers in the Air Force and had a vivid memory of the courses he had played, came up with a novel idea: guiding him to the river via a series of specific golf-course holes that had been provided by his golfing buddies.

As Hambleton recalled in a 2001 interview with Golf Digest, the planners told him, “You’re going to play 18 holes and you’re going to get in the Suwannee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna. The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National.”

Hambleton said it took him awhile to figure out they were giving him distance and direction: “No. 1 at Tucson National is 408 yards running southeast. They wanted me to move southeast 400 yards. The ‘course’ would lead me to water.”

On the night of his eighth day in hiding, Hambleton began walking the imaginary fairways that had been mapped out for him.

MirarSeptember 18, 2008 3:49 PM

Sounds like a good guess. It'd be a lot easier, if you're going to use codewords anyway, to just write say a blog and have people read it (and/or even comment). Livejournal, wordpress and other such sites are full of journals that doesn't make sense anyway. It could be a blog about food or even computer security... and if you successfully make it interesting, your codeword readers will drown in the amount of readers, so they can't be traced even if you get access to the readers IPs. Wouldn't be a good movie plot though.

SamSeptember 18, 2008 4:06 PM

The interesting thing in this notion is the idea that so many services now include a messaging/chat feature that the intelligence community could drown in the free steganographic options.

JilaraSeptember 18, 2008 4:16 PM

To those of us familiar with the 1990 Federal raid on Steve Jackson Games, and how their role-playing games were alleged to be "a blueprint for computer crime," these sorts of scenarios are hardly surprising. Been there, done that, sort of thing. There has even been a cartoon scenario where a guy who's plotting a heist goes to a person who does fantasy role-playing to get ideas on how to pull it off, telling him it's for a role-playing game. Don't these guys even have original thought? Apparently not.

Which reminds me, I need to check in on what "the other Jilara" is doing on WoW. I've been Jilara on the net since the 1980's, but now I seem to have a doppleganger who's a WoW character, who showed up recently on a Google search. I've wondered if there are people out there attempting to correlate her (well, the "her" in terms of character - it might be a guy playing her) with me. Hmm, what if "she" is a possible "terrorist"? Do I end up on a government watch list?

KoruSeptember 18, 2008 4:44 PM

As someone who actually plays WoW, I have to say this idea seems ludicrous. Along with what everyone else was saying regarding them requiring a seperate and secure medium to establish a code, if I saw a conversation like that in game, I'd be pretty confused.

Why you may ask, because absolutely nothing they said makes sense
- There are NO raid instances in Stonetalon Mountains
- There's no "White Keep" at all
- There's no such thing as a "Dragon Fire spell"
- 110 Gold and 234 Silver would actually round to 112 Gold 34 Silver (which not being a one-to-one relationship, then loses the point entirely)
- And of course, NO ONE would do a raid for money at all, much less a specific amount...
- (I will concede that Stonetalon Mountains is an actual place in WoW, however no one who is higher than level 35 would go there, and no one under level 50 can reasonably participate in a raid)
Anyways, the point is that this completely removes the point that the type of discussion could blend in to the casual conversation, because it simply wouldn't make sense in context. It's all well and good to tell a bunch of people who don't play WoW that this seems like a casual conversation about in game material, but it's actually a bunch of non-sense, like most code-talk is.

AlbatrossSeptember 18, 2008 4:48 PM

Internet name-collisions are annoying. I've been using the handle 'Albatross' since 1975 (shout out to all my MECC homies) and for several years in the '90's there was a fellow from Florida with the same handle trolling Usenet and besmirching the moniker. Next life, I'll pick something uniquer, like "Jason Luxury-Yacht."

It does raise the question of managing one's online identity or persona, particularly across multiple genres (blogs, MMORPGs, social networking sites, etc.)

crossbuckSeptember 18, 2008 4:50 PM

A friend of mine and I used to pass each other steganographic messages for fun over a decade ago. It was simple and nobody could figure what we were doing except exchanging innocuous text and photos. We even figured out other ways of transmitting and receiving. The WoW scenario is just too ridiculous when there are simpler, safer ways of doing this.

SkorjSeptember 18, 2008 5:15 PM

It certianly makes sense to use WoW as a non-monitored chat platform. With 10 million users worldwide there's certainly a lot of noise to ge lost in, it's a different protocol from things the FBI is *already* tapping, and it has a very agressive rootkit that looks for other software that interacts with the game, so it would be hard to snoop on the client.

So, I can completely see using WoW to chat instead of Skype. But why would *anyone* imagine people chatting in *public* game channels using some sort of code. Total movie-plot threat.

BetaSeptember 18, 2008 5:22 PM

Is anyone else tempted to form a team in WoW that does just the opposite? That is, talk about nuking the pentagon or spreading anthrax in Los Angeles as code for actually storming castles and killing griffons (or whatever you do in the game)?

Abram NicholsSeptember 18, 2008 5:38 PM

are we to be scared, then, of anything and everything that COULD be used for nefarious purposes? Is this to be our final legacy, that of a lion that's frightened of its own shadow? We've awoken from our slumber...only to be terrified of reality...

Jim BurrowsSeptember 18, 2008 5:52 PM

@Koru, Yes, of course it is nonsense, but one presumes that the terrorists aren't trying to hide so much from other players as from people data mining internet traffic. That it is in context nonsense and must have some other meaning may not be obvious either to a pattern matching algorithm or to the average intelligence analyst.

If you assume that most any on line communications channel can be monitored, and you want to discuss violent things, then picking WoW to hide in rather than facebook or IRC has a few plausible advantages. It can even make hanging out on a vent server look more normal. If you combine aural and mildly written communications it could do a modestly good job of letting you get on periodically to deal with final arrangements.

As to why you would use this channel and not the previous one, the obvious answer is that the previous channel was face to face with a third party when you and they were somewhere else.

Personally, I doubt it is being used for much nefarious business, but Joi Ito a year or so back was claiming that it would replace the golf links as the social context for off-hours business discussions in the legitimate high tech realm. Why is it unbelievable that it be used as such for illegitimate.

Oh, and to keep from being overheard by WoW players who would recognize the gobbledygook as such, you conduct the discussion in an instance or other private channel.

JimB.

Jim BurrowsSeptember 18, 2008 5:54 PM

Sorry, "mildly written" in the above should be "mildly encoded written". I wrote too fast.

Jim BurrowsSeptember 18, 2008 6:09 PM

@Abram Nichols, re: "are we to be scared, then, of anything and everything that COULD be used for nefarious purposes?"

Thank you! In fact, no, the fact that WoW or porn or pictures of the Grand Canyon or box cutters or a teaspoon or a pair of shoes or liquids COULD be used for nefarious purposes should treat us just the opposite, that perfect safety is unattainable and shouldn't be the goal.

We need to stop looking fr dangerous things and banning them. We need to be learning what are dangerous paterns of behaviors and avoiding them. We should also be looking at what sort of things escalate conflicts and cause dangerous things to be used nefariously and try to manage to deescalate.

This suggests that economics should be applied to security, for instance, and the hygiene may want to be moderated because an excess of it can damage the immune system.

As parents many of us realize eventually that we have to house proof the baby not baby proof the house. We need to world proof our children and not child proof the world. It actually is good parenting to let your kids take the subway on their own. The lesson of 9/11 should have been "don't just go along with the hijackers" not we have to disarm everyone who could be a hijacker, which is to say everyone in a plane.

We need to learn that it isn't safe inside the firewall and dangerous outside it, but rather that risk can be managed and minimized.

If I argue that WoW or porn can be used to conceal bad people talking about bad things, it is not with the end in mind that we must control WoW or porn. As I said in my first message, the lesson is the reverse. Bad people will be able to say things we don't ever hear. There are 6 billion people and about 4 billion of them are awake at any given moment. Some of them will say vitally important terrible things that we can't hear. Shucks.

KoruSeptember 18, 2008 6:25 PM

@Jim Burrows: You definately make some good points. I suppose the point I was trying to make is that it really has little advantage over many other channels. While discussing violent acts wouldn't be worth scanning for with data mining software, in general the actual discussion of violent acts can be insinuated in other channels, rather than out-right stated, which would avoid key-word detection aswell.

Anyways, bottom line, rediculous waste of time and resources, in my opinion. And something else just occured to me, I wonder what Blizzard thinks of all this?

Abram NicholsSeptember 18, 2008 6:29 PM

Plus, you can find something that "looks" suspicious almost anywhere. You could interpret a flirtatious conversation between two lovers as the next plan to destroy the country.

AdSeptember 18, 2008 7:27 PM

Its a clever ploy to get terrorists addicted to MMO's and too preoccupied to blow anything up.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 18, 2008 7:48 PM

@ Albatros

Yes, her secret question for account recovery was apparently where she met her husband. Unfortunately she has told the answer to everyone in the world several times over.

Someone should explain to her what "secret" actually means. She wants to keep public documents and meetings secret by using private email, but then she gives her account information out in public speeches...

Someone will probably also need to explain to her soon that the red phone in the oval office is not a hotline to Domino's Pizza for late night delivery calls.

@ Bruce

Good one.

"I don't even know why the particular form of communication is in any way important."

It is important because 97% of children aged 14-17 today play video games. More specifically, Dr. Dwight Toavs probably likes to play WoW and figured he could kill two birds -- write a paper about it instead of some other topic that might pull him away from "research" in the virtual world. WoW could also explain why it took him 14 years to get a PhD in Public Administration and Policy.

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/0/027/627

So here's an alternative theory: Online gaming is so addictive and pervasive, the US should try and get terrorists to start playing so they forget about their primary mission and end up happy just doing virtual damage.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 18, 2008 10:18 PM

@ Jilara, Albatross,

"Internet name-collisions are annoying"

So are real life ones.

If you search on my name in google and filter for U.K. Content only you will find atleast four other people with my name that are involved in the same industry as myself.

Worse one of them has pictures online taken at a presentation they gave and to a casual observer they resemble me as in, similar age hair style, beard and glasses...

One of the others actualy came up to me at a security conferance a few years ago and said "snap" and even offered me a job (still not sure if they thought it was me or one of the other Clive's).

And I have several physical doubles as well (two are well known to me and my various circles of friends).

Just over a month ago my partner our son and her parents wher at a steam railway two or three hundred miles from where I live. Unbeknown to my partners parent's one of my "body doubles" (John L) was at the same event and they saw him on the platform from one of the trains. Even they mistook him for me and asked my partner a short while later what I was doing at the railway. It only became clear later when my partner bumbed into John L in the cafe.

And yes customs has been fooled as well. I went on holiday with a group of friends and as is the custom in some European countries you have to hand your passports over at the hotel for "security reasons". One of the people was my other "body double". Well on leaving the hotel he and I where given each others passports by mistake. We both traveled back to the U.K. on the wrong passports at a time when terorist activity was high in the U.K. It was not untill a week or so later that the problem was discovered.

And those who know me well still wonder why I do not belive in coincidence...

BillSeptember 19, 2008 3:19 AM

Oh wow (pun) endless fun:

If spooks are infiltrating the games, will this draw in jihadists to slay them?

Will the TSA add Nordic gods to the no fly list?

Will virtual characters be subject to virtual searches? "Open that unreal bag...." Will virtual liquids be banished?

... I'll get my coat

Ping-Che ChenSeptember 19, 2008 4:27 AM

WoW is not a good idea for these type of talks. Many MMORPG, including WoW, have different degrees of monitoring, to solve any potential problem (e.g. bad words or behaviors by some players). I don't know for how long they keep these logs, but the fact that it's monitored and logged already makes it a bad choice for any potential terrorists.

gregSeptember 19, 2008 6:52 AM

A few people have said that the 10 Million or so people will create a good S/N ratio for Dr Evil.

Well there are a lot more people with email accounts last time i checked.

RyanSeptember 19, 2008 6:56 AM

Ridiculous waste of time researching these movie ploys. I would bet terrorists just use AES 256 encryption and communicate that way. End of story.

BernieSeptember 19, 2008 7:00 AM

Bruce Schneier said, "My guess is still that some clever Pentagon researchers have figured out how to play World of Warcraft on the job, and they're not giving that perk up anytime soon."

I thought that the whole DHS was a way for overly paranoid people to get paid by the government to play at work (so to speak). :-)

ripSeptember 19, 2008 7:08 AM

anyone who is logged on to WoW for three hours or less is obviously a terrorist and should be added to the No Flies list. Real gamers stay on for more than 12 hours.

bobSeptember 19, 2008 8:22 AM

They could just write an automated scanning tool and flag it when anyone talks about units of silver (or copper) > 99 since 100c = 1s & 100s = 1g.

Dont forget WoW has in-game email; they could send those; NSA will need to have Blizzard (owned by our allies against terror - the FRENCH) set up automatic in-game email forwarding to NSA.

bobSeptember 19, 2008 8:38 AM

Actually, if you REALLY want to blend in on the chat channels (actually the sales channel since its global) in WoW; you need to phrase everything as "Harry Potter and the [White Keep]" or "Chuck Norris can nuke the White Keep 110234 times or similar."

Furthermore, while there are 10,000,000+ WoW users; they are all segregated by server in clusters of 20,000 or so. The best you are going to do for coordination is a 40-person battleground like Alterac Valley from battlegroups (small clusters of servers).

It would probably be more valuable to data mine how many people in middle east are making phone calls to a single WoW server than actually track what they do in it.

70 Mage, 70 Hunter, 70 Pally, 70 Shaman, 58 Rogue, 50 Hunter, 26 Druid - no I dont play WoW (actually I am on the wagon; at least til LK)

bobSeptember 19, 2008 8:45 AM

kek - I just realized Blizz would probably ban NSA's accounts since they would be using unauthorized tools for operating their avatars.

Nick FortuneSeptember 19, 2008 8:59 AM

> Spend godzillions of dollars to completely cover
> WoW, and I'll describe why concealing
> stegnographic text in porn now that there are
> numerous sites publishing picture sets with a few
> dozen 3000x5000 pixel images every couple of
> days, and people trading bootleg versions of
> those in websites hosted in places like Russia, is
> the way to go.

Not to disagree, but if I was a terrorist I'd use cute
pictures of of kittens for my stegnography.
Probably with lolcats style captions, to make it
harder to compare the pic against other copies that
may exist online. You could even (if you can find
kittens looking cute and fierce at the same time)
have a jokey combat meme to go with it, about
which kittens could beat up with others.

Not that we're ever likely to see a campaign to ban
cute fluffy kitten photos any time soon...

johnESeptember 19, 2008 9:16 AM

@Abram
"I could tell you things about Peter Pan...
and the Wizard of Oz -- there's a dirty old man"
-- Tom Lehrer

And, of course, Cardinal Richelieu,
"If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."

KoruSeptember 19, 2008 9:25 AM

@bob: Then they could just use the actual in game co-ordinate system, it would be just as effective as xxx Gold and yyy Silver. For those who don't know many 3rd party WoW patches include a Cartesian co-ordinate system for every map, in which 23.5, 46.8 would be 23.5% accross from the top left, and 46.8% down from the top left. The system gives a good idea of where on the map you're going, really useful in game.

Which raises a point, I don't know why they didn't use this method in the scenario they proposed, it would actually make sense in game, and be just as effective...

edgoreSeptember 19, 2008 9:40 AM

Does this mean that if I create an MMO set in a map-accurate, but post holocaust version of the real world, after say, an alien invasion, where players take on the roles of freedom fighters using guerilla tactics to fight the alien overlords by attacking various alien strongholds (set up in what used to be the Capital, the Pentegon, The Statue of Liberty etc), that I would have the first MMO that is actaully capable of pulling some small subset of players AWAY from WOW? That sounds like a winning business plan! NOBODY has been able to do that!

paulSeptember 19, 2008 11:38 AM

This sounds like a perfect opportunity for a claimed-plaintext attack. Just substitute whatever verbs and nouns and numbering conversions you want, and take your alleged perpetrators away for enhanced interrogation.

bobSeptember 19, 2008 11:44 AM

@edgore: IMO Blizz has been "dumbing down" WoW ("Nerfing" in WoW parlance) in order to appeal to a wider(lazier?) audience and pushing the diehard first-adopters away, so this could be the right time for your MMO.

@Koru: If they found a zone in WoW that (approximately) modeled a real-world location and all agreed on which was mapped to what, that would be PG technique for obfuscation. Just as long as it wasn't SV on a Sunday afternoon where random 70s came up and opened a duel window so a 19 could fish.

derfSeptember 19, 2008 12:18 PM

Second Life would allow you to create a "scale" model of your objective, as long as you only wanted to walk into it. Terrorists walking into buildings might be scary, but I think they'd hurt themselves more than most buildings.

I think the flight simulator usage by the 9/11 hijackers has some spooks spooked. Sad thing is, I know many people who have tried flying 747's upside down under the Golden Gate bridge or tested how hard it would be to hit a stationary target like the Statue of Liberty. Does that make them terrorists?

Clive RobinsonSeptember 20, 2008 1:13 AM

@ derf,

" ...or tested how hard it would be to hit a stationary target like the Statue of Liberty. Does that make them terrorists?"

Personaly I would say they where probably male with a hankering for playing with toys ;)

Seriously though if you have children and they have toy cars / trains / planes etc they will act out what "we adults" call "disaster senarios".

This appears also to be the case with adolecent games console players and the (possibly) over realistic blood and guts of some otherwise unrealistic single player combat games. I guess it's ok to blitz aliens as they aren't real, or be the "all American hero" in a dog fight flight sim game, but bring it closer to home with a game about street crime like Grand theft Auto which is a little to real for some peoples comfort and wait for the vitriol to come out...

I guess most males will carry this "disaster senario" pattern forward into adult life at some level. Only most of us know that if it happened in real life it's going to cause a lot of hurt so we don't like to think about it to much, or have the simulations to real.

Some of us (product designers / engineers) have to think about "what if senarios" profesionaly. We tend to abstract them away by asigning probabilities and if we judge them significant, then mitigate them in the design process.

Like you of recent times looking at the news etc and the need to talk up "terrorist plots" by our political lords and masters I have wondered how long before an engineer got their collar felt by the authorities (and it appears to have already happened).

But worse it looks like in the U.K. We want to lock up the children of "others living in our midst". The courts have just sentanced a young man for terrorist activities carried out when he was just fifteen, effectivly making him the youngest terrorist so far.

You have to ask what it is in our society that makes us this way. And the only conclusion I have come to is that irespective of what it is somebody for their own political agender will try to capitalise on some asspect of society, that has upto that time been accepted within society. It is realy a question of timing, rehtoric and societal norms if they succed or not.

Sometimes society decides after some reflection that perhaps they are right othertimes not in which case we call them "cranks" (or worse). Othertimes society accepts the rhetoric and at some later time decides it was wrong (Prohibition). And on other occasions the "cranks" just don't go away and every generation or so they push for their idea even though it has been repeatedly examined by society and rejected sometimes violently so.

Othertimes a person or group with a political or other agenda will get support from a minority in society and due to having sufficient power enforce their view over that of society in genaral. It is at these times that people lose freedoms and cannot sleep safe at night. The most obvious example being Dictators, but even in a supposed Democracy by the process of lobbying etc some groups will get their way over the common interest of society.

As johnE has already quoted Cardinal Richelieu above I will not repeat it but instead remind you that "Power corrupts, absolute power..." and that it all spins on the perception that can be engendered by little more than rhetoric which gives rise to the most feared weapon of all the "will of the people".

Vorgoth911September 20, 2008 4:36 PM

dude better than them using facebook, myspace, or youtube, least they're paying money for this 1 lol which means less money in their pockets even if it isnt much

Sean RileySeptember 21, 2008 6:30 PM

As Koru pointed out, the gibberish there /isn't even WoW gibberish/.

I don't know what's going on. They're definitely not actually PLAYING World of Warcraft, or they'd have gotten their terms right.

neillSeptember 21, 2008 11:05 PM

one could
- use 'autocad' to create models of buildings
- use 'word' to write howtos
- use photoshop to examine/stich/enhance pictures for planning

would it make sense to block/outlaw/investigate any use of those programs?

mooSeptember 22, 2008 8:40 PM

@Mirar: "It'd be a lot easier, if you're going to use codewords anyway, to just write say a blog and have people read it (and/or even comment). Livejournal, wordpress and other such sites are full of journals that doesn't make sense anyway."


Not only that, but to play World of Warcraft you need a somewhat modern machine running Windows or MacOS. But any PC (even a 10-year-old one) can access the Internet.

Terrorists would probably also use Internet cafes or wireless laptops or something, and using websites/blogs will just be a lot easier.

Also the fact that Blizzard logs all the traffic in WoW and keeps it for a couple months would seem to be a reason not to use WoW for your covert operations. Much better to use some webserver in Russia or somewhere, which is not as easy for the NSA to get the logs from.

El LeetoSeptember 25, 2008 8:33 AM

Oh noes! Wow is teh haxorz we all goona diez! Run bak to Pokemanz, oh noes they are teh satanic toolz!

Andrew SSeptember 26, 2008 5:10 PM

This reminds me of how i used to write papers in literature classes where i was far out of my element.

1. Come up with ridiculous claim or comparison (say...Gregor Samsa was modelled after Papagena from Mozart's die Zauberflaute)

2. Support it with flimsy logic and out-of-context excerpts

3. Receive good grade!

MikeOctober 15, 2008 1:26 PM

What the government wants to do is be able to listen in on or obtain detailed copies of conversations made by people that they have identified as potential persons of interest. They may want to have some first order keyword search installed in MMORPG servers, but I don't know if that kind of fishing expedition has worked out for them in the last 7 years and I tend to think it hasn't. My thought is that if the Feds discover potential terror cell activity, they will want to follow it wherever it goes, and one obvious place would be networked gaming systems with its excellent group audio support. (Just wear a headset to separate inbound audio from outbound audio because these little shops have not yet figured out echo suppression.) Game systems are huge, and they typically support audio conversations in groups. Also, Linden Labs Second Life is a non-gaming virtual community that supports audio and typed conversations.

I suspect that an Al Qaeda cell is going to have a difficult time making it to Stonetalon unless they actually spend some time in the game and level their characters. Stonetalon isn't a very high level area, but they will have to spend a few hours playing to be able to go there. There are plenty of low level areas to go hide in and have "private" conversations. The thing is, there is only a veil of privacy as all that private chatter and text go through the servers with everyone else's. No problem tapping into any of that, if you know its what you really want to do.

Has anyone bothered to chat with a Blizzard employee? My guess is that there are already Federal and State required mods which allow taps to be activated on proper request.

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