US Government Looking to Hack Video Games
As technology continues to grow and evolve, it seems that people are finding more and more ways to commit crimes. While stealing personal and financial information is the largest crime to affect people in the online world, there are other crimes that still exist in the online forum. Now, the United States government is looking for a way to monitor these transactions. Their first targets are the social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, but now they have hired a California-based company to hack into the online networks used by video game consoles, like the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, to watch the activities of gamers. They feel that the gaming community is another place where people can commit crimes, but what does that mean for the Halo lovers and Uncharted explorers?
The US government has given a $177,000 contract to Obscure Technologies, a private firm, to develop software that can extract personal information from the various video game networks and their consoles. According to officials, Obscure Technologies is collaborating with the U.S Navy and the Department of Homeland Security on the project because they have the most experience in the field.
These networks are, expectedly, mostly frequented by teenagers and young adult gamers. Anyone who has ever played one of these games online, such as Halo, Call of Duty, or Uncharted, knows what to expect when they enter the online gaming forums. But, according to the United States government, there may be more sinister things going on.
The government argues that these forums may be being used by such intolerable criminals, like pedophiles and even terrorists, to plot their crimes. These forums are heavily encrypted by the service providers, Microsoft and Sony, and have assured that what happens in those online gaming forums stays there, but the government is confident that Obscure Technologies can track and hack that code to allow the government to monitor.
There is an obvious issue with privacy and this type of work. The DHS is very aware of those issues. “This project requires the purchasing of used video game systems outside the U.S. in a manner that is likely to result in their containing significant and sensitive information from previous users,” states the contract. Simson Garfinkel, a computer science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School adds, “We do not wish to work with data regarding U.S. persons due to Privacy Act considerations. If we find data on U.S. citizens in consoles purchased overseas, we remove the data from our corpus.”
In 2008, law enforcement agencies contacted the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate and requested help in analyzing gaming systems seized during court-authorized searches, Garfinkel said. While some tools exist to extract data from gaming consoles, the consoles are hard to crack as they are designed with copyright protection systems, he said.
Obscure Technologies was the sole company found with the expertise to execute the contract, which will run through July, the contracting and tasking documents state. Obscure’s lead scientist reverse-engineered the Xbox.
Of course, what the government is interested in is not the game itself, but the platform and the way you use it. Video game consoles have evolved beyond simple entertainment machines into powerful all-purpose devices that are used to watch movies, post on Facebook, or more important to an FBI or CIA agent chat with other players.