Pentagon Paranoia? How Terrorists Might Use WoW to Nuke White House

Planning a high level raid is tough enough in World of Warcraft, but a Pentagon researcher warns that al Qaeda could plan a nuclear attack on the White House via the popular MMO.

Wired’s Danger Room reports that  Dr. Dwight Toavs, a professor at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University laid out such a scenario at the National Intelligence Open Source Conference in Washington, D.C. last week:

…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.


… details are a little fuzzy. The terminology doesn’t match World of Warcraft lingo, all that precisely. There is no "White Keep" in World of Warcraft; "Dragon Fire" is a spell in EverQuest, the old-school role-playing game, not WoW. But the banter is reminiscent enough of World of Warcraft talk, to give outsiders an idea of how such a conversation might go down — and how hard it would be to identify.

But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of the American Scientists was skeptical:

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. 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.

For his part, Toavs believes that anti-terror operatives may have to go undercover in games like WoW.

GP: This issue comes up periodically from the counter-terror community. Usually, Second Life is the main suspect. But would terrorists really go to all the trouble of using WoW as an assembly area when IMs, PGP-encrypted e-mail and steganography are readily available?

Besides, wouldn’t WoW-playing terrorists become addicted like everyone else and neglect their jihad?

Finally, We’ve reported previously that Middle-East expert Juan Cole has dismissed the MMO terror cell notion:

What’s the real game here?

…The notion that wandering around such an imaginary world with a computerized body is dangerous to anyone seems itself cartoonish and calls into question the public hand-wringing by security experts.


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  1. oto kirlama says:

    Gallagher can araç kiralama say all he wants, but I strongly rent a car believe it’s due to his crappy leadership and E3 being a joke. ESA’s Board of Directors need to find a way to get out rent a car of this horrid contract with this Bush cronie before there’s no one left on the Board.

    Btw, I think Atari and Midway will drop out too, but mostly travesti because  these guys have done nothing ttnet vitamin or little and need to start saving costs.


    Now I don’t have to get off my ass for the important shit anymore!

    Whats next, ordering pizza from Xbox live?

    Wait… I think that sounds like a good idea.

    But I think voting should MAKE you get off your ass, and see outside or a second while you go vote. I mean, your picking the president of the United States of America for God’s Sake… least you can do is drive down there and punch out a card.


  2. Jim Jenkins ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I have a good friend who worked in Navy encryption for four years.

    His take on this? "It’s absolutely plausible."

    "The problem with encryption is it can always be cracked. The only real way to hide communication is volume. And in a game with 5 million people logged in at any one time, you’ve got all the volume you need."

  3. Neeneko says:

    Well yes, this was only one approach, but keep in mind all this discussion is over a single powerpoint presentation given at a single talk at a single confrence.  Such presentations usually only go over a simplified concept or a brief overview of something.

    And even if something is a low prioirty, that isn’t a reason to not do it.  Low priority stuff needs to be looked into too.

  4. Brokenscope says:

    Modern warfare technologies are surprisingly ineffective against the tactics employed by “terrorists” and “insurgents,rebels,freedom fighters, partisans,etc”. Especially when the larger conventional forces put a rather higher value on human life. The joys of asymmetric warfare.

    Most of America is not paranoid, most of America is shockingly stupid, about many things. It is amazing how quickly people throw reason out the window when you say certain words.

    According the the DHS, we should have had at least one attack since 9/11. Atleast according to the "Threat level" Instead I think it is safer to assume that people want to justify their rather large budget.


  5. thefremen says:

     Since operatives can chat on Ham Radio, IRC, email, p2p networks, skype, prepaid cell phones, secret messages in al quida tapes, newsgroups, yahoo questions, the CAD forum, Something Awful forum, YTMND, etc etc shouldn’t the concern be whether or not they get their hands on enough material to make any sort of nuclear weapon? 


    Do we just have our bombs which used to be pointed at Moskow just laying around for anyone to pick up, leaving the only concern that someone will talk about it on Everquest or WoW?

  6. This is just ridiculous.


    In theory it would be something that could work. But this seems to be something more designed to make non computer people paranoid then a feasible plan. There are just too many things that could go wrong.

  7. duncan_922 says:

    It’s dumb….   Of course they could use WoW…   They could also use messenger pigeons…  Or they could use planes to bring down buildings.  So what???   Let’s shoot every pigeon on sight, let’s get rid of every game, every means of communication, etc….


    Dumb people think dumb things!

  8. KayleL says:

    But PGP is damn near impossible to crack. Unless we want to wait a few 100 thousand years, or a computer revolution which increases the speed of computers by million times. This is no exaggeration too.

    I trust Steve Gibson when he said that PGP is that good.

  9. Anonymous says:

     IMs, PGP-encrypted e-mail and steganography are readily available?

    As someone who as worked in this area, I can tell you that no major league terrorist would use such technology, because when you encryot something like that, it gets noticed by the NSA and other professionally nosy organizations. The most effective way is to simply do what they dp here and use code words or euphmisms, or if you really have to shift something large, use a huge file transfer to hise it (stick it in the middle of 300 baby photos). But yeah, if some guy in a Daubi cyber cafe sent something with high level encryption, I gaurantee someone would use it. Something like this isn’t out of the question.

  10. Prince Of Persia says:

     Why are Americans so paranoid? Al Qaeda are just some poor people in somebody’s back yard. big deal….

    Everyone points bombing to Al Qaeda, but in reality Al Qaeda just talks big, harrassing people and sowing hatred. Now they has made  America fear them. Why should America fear this poor organisation when it has modern warfighting technologies.


    You fear them, they have already won the battle.

  11. Muggins says:

    This just seems a bit silly to me – essentially they’re implying that an MMO is somehow a special case when it comes to hiding the true meaning of a conversation.

    Surely they realise there are far easier ways to do this, eg. email – simply replace "white house" with / and "nuke" with ?.

    I’m fairly sure that even the best monitoring we’ve got would miss some suspect punctuation.

    Heck they could just post chocolate bars to each other to get the message across if they’d worked out a code in advance.

    It’s amazing that people get paid to waste time and to stir up public outrage like this.

  12. tirsden says:

    It wasn’t all that long ago I remember something on the news about how the US military was looking at the way MMOs are organized as something they should emulate for their own defensive and offensive measures…

    I kinda doubt whoever is coming up with this is doing it so they can play the game at work… unless they purposefully messed up on the in-game facts. What a completely idiotic zone to pick for a raid (unless it’s "mash teh low-lvl Horde/Alliance guards time). I want to know where this Keep is in Stonetalon Mountains… or how one can get a right-click item with a spell sounding that powerful, because surely this guy knows actual player spells don’t actually go in inventory…

  13. Father Time says:

    This remind me of so many movies and tv shows wher ethe main character thought his neighbors were up to no good but they were really involved in something harmless.

  14. GRIZZAM PRIME says:

    Yeah…um…there are possible incidents of…uhh…y’know…terrorist plots…and…uhhhhhhhhhhh-OH SH!T! WATCH OUT FOR THAT GOBLIN! F*CKING BITCH ASS F*CKING F*CK! F*CK! C#CK ASS MOTHER BITCH F*CK!!! YEAH! F*CK YOU !!!!!! CAN’T ROLL WITH THE DARK ELF, HUH? YEAH!!!


    Uhh, anyway…yeah…there may be …terror…stuff. Yeah.


    Terror indeed…



    -Remember kids, personal responsibility is for losers! For information on games and psychology, look up: Jonathan Freedman(2002)Block & Crain(2007) Just to name a few…

  15. Kojiro ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    THIS JUST IN: Terrorists can talk privately amoungst themselves to plan an attack.  "They don’t need technology, all they need are tongues", warns the Secretary of Defense.  Security experts everywhere are concerned.

  16. JustChris says:

    "Proof of concept" things sound like they should only be a low priority, but this feels like pork-barrel spending to me. Is it possible for terrorists to plot in WoW? Definitely. But is it practical to explore? Not very.

    And the way this concept was carried out was not very good. They only took one approach as to how a cell might organize in an MMO. They didn’t take in account private chat, private hacked WoW servers, and other ways that a cell could’ve used to discuss incognito. You don’t even need to be technically proficient to hack up your own server…I’m sure they can outsource this quick job for cheap.

  17. Neeneko says:

     I think people are overreacting to this a bit.

    The goal of the presentation was not to go ‘OMG TERRORISTS ARE DOING THIS!’ or other hysterics.. it was just a proof of concept for how something could be done via a technology that the bulk of the people attending the confrence are not familiar with.

    There are lots of ways that a cell can organize.  But dismissing one particular way with the idea ‘well, there are other ways!’ doesn’t make much sense, esp since those examples also fall under the catagory of ‘why would they use PGP or stenography when disposible cell phones exist!’

    Part of the job of people like this is to show all the myrid of ways things could pan out so that the community is not comletely with it’s pants down if someone DOES decide to go that route.  Knowledge is not a bad thing.

  18. Gevlad says:

    Is there going to be a subsequent study to follow up on blizzard being a front for a terrorist cell and how they are intent on destroying the entirety of civilzation by having us all mindlessly addicted to the game, neglecting our jobs until civilization fails completely???




  19. SJ Zero says:

    Don’t worry, this is all funded by your kids. Republicans don’t actually tax when they increase spending (even though, on average, they’ve raised the budget by twice as much, adjusting for inflation), they just cut taxes and let the kids pay for it.

  20. Anonymous says:

     But using it draws attention to yourself, which is exactly what a professional terrorist wants to avoid when communicating. Let’s put it this way: you send your information down the highway in a armored car to protect it from being read, or you can put in a car just like the thousands of others out there, and rest secure in the knowledge that there is no feasible way for the cops to search every car. 

    And the NSA and other agencies do not play fair when it comes to situations like this. They cheat. Based on my experinces, I would not be suprised if they had arranged with the company that made such software to have a backdoor written in ”in the interest of national security”. Or they would go on your home computer and get the encryption key. Or used HUMINT to get the information. If they want it bad enough, they will find a way to leverage it open.

  21. Anonymous says:

    The biggest terrorists in the world are our own government. They take away our freedoms in the name of security and use stupid crap like this to scare us into complacency.

    Shit they told us we could protect ourselves from a chemical attack with ****ing duct tape.

  22. Khabi says:


    World of Warcraft… when you’re too dumb to send emails that are PGP encrypted. 

    Really, I don’t see how they could consider this a viable way to transmit data (both sides, terrorists and the govt.).  There are too many uncontrolled middle points for anyone planing something illegal that are open to eavesdropping.

    *The comunication isn’t encrpyted, anyone on the local network (both sides) to any ISP between the two could listen in.  (Packet sniffing is *EXTREMELY* easy)

    *Blizzard itself.  Even if say the client (WoW game itself) encrypted data sent ingame.  Blizzard would have the key to unencrpyt it and hand it over (or any other game / publisher in this position).

    *Visibility / Paper trail.  Its a subscription service, there is a paper trail.  I know Blizzard doesn’t exactly ask for your dna to use the service, but between payments, IP addresses, and your in game contacts / mail history thats plenty to home in on a location.

    Off the top of my head better ways to plan something like this..

    *Personal IRC channel with encrpyted text that is decripted on the client side (IRC client).

    *Email encrypted via PGP or the like with strong passphrases

    *Personal colo’d linux machine using ssh and the linux write command and bash history disabled.

    Those are just off the top of my head.

    I have to ask if they’re really spending money on topics that could be foiled by your average script kiddy?  In a world where even the complicated functions of a computer comes down to point and click interfaces, I would hope they would raise their bar to something a little bit higher then "Video games could connect terrorists to plot our demise".


    <Political Bullshit>

    As a final note.. Hey jackasses, want to help curb terrorism in a realistic way?  How about we pull our troops from all these damn countries that don’t want us there?  Ever happen to think thats why they’re so pissed off?

    </Political Bullshit>

  23. Vinzent ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Excuse me, but if I were a memeber of a terrorist cell I wouldn’t use the General chat function, nor would I /yell in the center of Ironforge.

    Honestly, how are "undercover operatives" going to listen in on an /tell or /party?

  24. Anonymous ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Porn Terrorist Ad or chat:
    Go blow the white stuff with the…

    Or they could be smart enough to come up with a system that was set up before hand that uses certain letters, like the first, last, or the 23rd, and start back at the beginning of the word if there isnt enough letters.  Then using different languages mixed together, invert the letters in each word and every third word be switch with the word 2 words before it.  It is all stuff the CIA knows pretty well.  They even use it.  They even have a statue in the courtyard of their building that uses it, and no one has EVER decoded the last segment of the statue.  The only person that knows what the last part is, is the guy who made it for them, but he hasn’t even told the CIA what it is, haha.

    It is pretty cool stuff though, there are computer programs out there to decode and encode messages too, or you can convert letters to binary… I used to do that for the hell of it and see if anyone would take the time to figure it out… no one ever did… (therefore, I am a loser, but I can live with that fact)

  25. Anonymous says:

    I think people are overreacting to this a bit.

    The goal of the presentation was not to go ‘OMG TERRORISTS ARE DOING THIS!’ or other hysterics.. it was just a proof of concept for how something could be done via a technology that the bulk of the people attending the confrence are not familiar with.

    There are lots of ways that a cell can organize.  But dismissing one particular way with the idea ‘well, there are other ways!’ doesn’t make much sense, esp since those examples also fall under the catagory of ‘why would they use PGP or stenography when disposible cell phones exist!’

    Part of the job of people like this is to show all the myrid of ways things could pan out so that the community is not comletely with it’s pants down if someone DOES decide to go that route.  Knowledge is not a bad thing.

    Thought I would repost Meeneko’s post up here since he said it so well. I’ll add a little something of mine as well. People, take your meds. This wasn’t some red level terror alert. It was a presentation to just pass in some "what if" scenarios. They aren’t coming for your games. Chill out.

  26. Adaptor ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Maybe when the 100 year war against the mostly imaginary enemy has been won. Till then, it’s pretty profitable to keep the nightmare alive and expand it in as many ways as possible.

  27. Zen says:

    Give it time.  Soon anything they don’t like/agree with/or understand will be a "possible terror threat" of some sort.  It’s just another way to garnish control from people via fear.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I agree, paranoia like this only takes authorities away from the real problems and wastes the government’s time and resources.

  29. E. Zachary Knight says:

    And the terrorists keep winning. We continue to be fed these doomsday scenarios based around common objects and situations.

    When will we stop helping the terrorists in this way.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA
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    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
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  30. NovaBlack says:

    The irony is there have been FAR more ppl killed by LIGHTNING than terrorist attacks.. but hey worrying about lightning and being scared to leave the house isnt fashionable.

  31. Dan J ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    So… a couple Pentagon researchers want an excuse to play World of Warcraft and get paid for it (by American taxpayers, no less)… to help keep our country safe?

    I smell a plot, all right…

  32. JustChris says:

    I think China would…they banned historical games for producing scenarios that are not aligned to the current state of the Chinese government.

  33. Zen says:

    Could they even go so far as to say any of the "Civilization" games could be training simulations for taking over the world?  I understand that is total BS..but apparently there are some well paid people that think otherwise.

  34. King of Fiji says:

    Um couldn’t someone just use alternative words to mean "Go Blow up the White House" in other things besides a MMO?

  35. C. Aaron Browbowski Jr. says:

    i think i smell…. bush fueled parnionia? anybody else feel that way /:|

    Jesus Jack Jones Thompson told me to do it!

  36. Mortium says:

    Wow, no one has yet to clue in that this guy is really just looking to have the Pentagon greenlight him playing WOW as his job. Wrath of the Lich King is due out in less than 2 months!

    If he actually succeeds to get funding to "monitor potential terrorist activity in World of Warcraft" all I have to say is, "Dude, you don’t need a research assistant, do you?"

  37. Zevorick says:

    If anything in stonetalon gave 110 gold and "234" silver…. it’d be camped day in and day out. This is paranoia, nothing else to see here, move along.

  38. Anonymous says:

    It should also be noted that those names as they currently appear couldn’t even exist within WoW….

    But I think these intel guys should realize that it’s harder than hell to glean information from MMOs or online games in general.  Some much shit is spewed out… everything from racist remarks to absolute shock statements.  I don’t think you could even tell what is real and what isn’t.

    Dragonspine Trophy anyone?

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