The feds are getting antsy about Second Life, and it has nothing to do with flying phalli. A recent paper by the government’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity group foresees virtual worlds becoming the perfect setting for espionage planning, money laundering, and other clandestine activities. Writes the paper’s author: “What started out as a benign environment where people would congregate to share information or explore fantasy worlds is now offering the opportunity for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity.”
The Washington Post reports that government officials are worried that the operators of virtual worlds “do not keep records of communication among avatars” and “have almost no way of monitoring the creation and use of virtual buildings and training centers, some of them protected by nearly unbreakable passwords.” (Subtext: monitoring people elsewhere on the web is pretty easy.) Intelligence officials also bemoan the fact that, because the denizens of virtual worlds lack real identities, it’s impossible to tell a good avatar from a bad avatar.
“The challenge that we face,” writes the author of the IARPA paper, “is to be able to distinguish the fanatics from the average person looking for some simple enjoyment.”
Dude, welcome to the internet.
The CIA already operates some private islands in Second Life, which it uses for training and meetings, but there are now plans for broader activity, suggests the Post: “National security officials have begun working informally to take stock of virtual worlds. That research likely will take on more urgency this year, as companies in other countries prepare to unveil their own virtual worlds.”
Beyond figuring out how to spy on avatars, the government is also preparing to wage actual battles in virtual worlds. Writes the Post: “The intelligence community has begun contemplating how to use Second Life and other such communities as platforms for cyber weapons that could be used against terrorists or enemies, intelligence officials said. One analyst suggested beginning tests with teams of cyber warfare experts.”
This strikes me as the perfect job for Rocky and Bullwinkle. After all, they had no problem thwarting the evil schemes of Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.