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Terror in the Virtual World

Periodically, we have mentioned Second Life, and the prospects of the virtual world having real world impact. There is some indication that “extremist groups” are now operating on Second Life. One recent incident involved the vandalizing of the virtual headquarters of the Second Life parallel universe political headquarters of the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for President.

The term used is “griefing.” Griefers exist to disrupt and harass (among other tactics) Second Life by using such tactics as using scripts to damage/cause issues with objects in-world, attaching things to your avatar that follow you and chat spam. One such “griefing group” has written a sort of. handbook of online terror. They even have a “declaration of war” posted on their site. This particular effort appears focused on circumventing the banning of “griefers” by blocking IP addresses.

The real implication of this lies in the use of an anonymizer such as ShoopedLife to send false IP and other hardware information to Linden Laboratories, enabling “griefers” and other disruptive types to log on. An explanation of ShooperLife can be found at Opensource viewers

This is basically a viewer that people use who are concerned about their anonymity. Well, the original client sends some kind of information about your hardware (seems to be the MAC-address of your network interface and the primary partition ID of your first hard disk drive) to the LL server to identify your computer regardless of your login, so that they can permban you if necessary. ShoopedLife circumvents this by sending just some random address instead, so that you can still login even if banned. Griefers love this client very much because it allows them to still login in such a case. Of course, you cannot login with the old account but are then able to make just a new account with trash mail address since Linden Lab will be unable to identify your computer.

The issue is important enough that Congress recently requested a report on the subject that is titled, Avatars, Virtual Reality Technology, and the U.S. Military: Emerging Policy Issues. The summary of that report reads:

This report describes virtual reality technology, which uses three-dimensional user-generated content, and its use by the U.S. military and intelligence community for training and other purposes. Both the military and private sector use this new technology, but terrorist groups may also be using it to train more realistically for future attacks, while still avoiding detection on the Internet.

An article in Scientific American offers additional analysis and discussion.

Now, you can either dismiss activities like this as nothing more than a virtual world extension of pranking and mischief, or see it as a potential threat. What can be done by a group like “PN” can be co-opted by real life terrorists. It appears that the process of measures and countermeasures is now an on-going one. Our enemy (regardless of the label you choose to use to describe them) is smart and educated, and as much involved in the tools of the information world as most of us. Second Life - Real or not real?

2 Comments

I just covered a new study on this topic which found the use of 2nd Life by Muslim terrorists "unlikely". Kudos on providing some good resources though, Jay. I gave you some link love at my post on the subject today.

To start with, I believe that the focus of what I wrote was on the open source anonymity afforded by ShoopedLife (a concern of LE). Yes, the CRS report also discussed the training aspect and in that, there is the question posed of the extension of "griefing" to other behaviors.

However, after reading alot of the study, I am struggling to determine how the researchers reached their conclusion(s). Also, I am bemused by the authors minimizing the use of SL by the terrorists (jihadists) for money laundering, communications and spreading of propaganda, as well as recruitment. All of these are issues of concern.

I recognize your knowledge in such areas, but FWIW, in my opinion, I think that overriding the judgements of some people who know more than I do about this is difficult to accept. I also think that the study discounts any advantage offered to al Qaeda etc. by Sl and other virtual capabilities. It also discounts the evolution of the capability in future years and the current use of SL for educational purposes. The study also bases the "won't happen" conclusion on unknown future penetration of high-speed access (and the possibility that alQ players might be stateside - one of their listed resources also shows Mexico as a locus for e-criminality). Finally, another research study is referenced in this post.

So, respectfully, I disagree with the generalized conclusion. I also hope that Mr. Tanji will weigh in on this subject sooner than later.