Spooks hunt for terrorists in WoW

Imagine resting comfortably in your college apartment or dorm only to have the FBI storm in and interrogate you about World of Warcraft.

Well, that’s exactly what happened to two University of Michigan students – who are currently under investigation for “potentially fraudulent sales or purchases of virtual currency that people use to advance in the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft.”

Among the items seized during the recent raid were laptop computers, hard drives, video game systems, credit cards, a cell phone, paperwork and other computer equipment. 

The bust was part of a larger FBI investigation of possible gold farming, where people sell virtual goods for real life cash or auction, often illegally.

Law enforcement officials believe at least one person in the apartment was involved with a “scheme to set up fraudulent bank accounts to buy and/or sell ‘virtual currency’ or ‘gold’ to be used in the game.”

However, the students swear the FBI has it wrong , claiming neither have ever played World of Warcraft.

“They thought we were involved in some kind of fraud,” one sophmore  told AnnArbor.com.

“I’m pretty sure they have the wrong people, but they took all my stuff [anyway].”

It may seem like petty crime, but a Canadian Botnet Analysis Report describes a “dark universe” where “virtual world terrorism facilitates real world terrorism: recruitment, training, communication, radicalization, propagation of toxic content, fund raising and money laundrering, and influence operations” within online games.

The report goes on to claim that inside these virtual worlds, terrorists have stacked games to make Allied troops the default enemy so potential terrorists can be recruited and trained. The virtual worlds are also allegedly capable of breeding and funding terrorists, while supporting state-sponsored espionage.

In addition, layer-to-player text and VOIP are purportedly used for “covert” communication between cells, illegal agent networks or the ephemeral ‘clans’ or ‘guilds’ in MMOG.

“These environments allow players to conduct real-money transactions (RMTs) in virtual worlds and permit the unregulated currency exchange of virtual credits for real funds.

“‘Gold farming’ and ‘power levelling’ operations of criminal organizations are some of the novel means of exploiting the medium. The encrypted exchange of zero-day network exploits is present as is the out-of band control and tasking of bot-nets,” the report concluded.

Clearly, the FBI is taking what seems like outlandish allegations somewhat seriously, as it did when it first created the Reynard Project to monitor terrorism, crime and espionage online.

The project, originally budgeted for 2008-2012, was created to profile and collect data on gaming behavior so U.S. intelligence agencies could track “suspicious behavior” in games like WoW and virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Although it’s unclear if the FBI believes illicit gold farms are connected with terrorism, the Reynard Project is obviously alive and well. 

(Via Computer World