Sony PS4 Gaming Network Used By Terrorists To Communicate Real Concerns In OZ
Evidence seized in the homes of those terrorists involved include a PlayStation 4 console which authorities now believe was used by up to 8 terrorists to plan their raids in Paris.
Authorities in Australia are now believed to be looking at gaming networks spanning both Microsoft Xbox and Sony PS4 as a source of trafficking information outside of the normal mobile and PC networks.
The big issue for authorities is that they don’t have the power or the capability to track potential terrorists as gaming network servers are based offshore.
Last night Belgian federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon said that a PS4 was used by ISIS agents to communicate, and was selected due to the fact that it’s notoriously hard to monitor.
“PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp,” he said.
When the new generation of gaming consoles were launched in Australia, there were concerns that they would be too light on privacy, with peripherals like Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation’s Camera possibly having the ability to spy on users if say, the government wanted a window into your living room.
Investigators believe that the terrorists employed a few options, from sending messages through the PlayStation Network (PSN) online gaming service and voice-chatting to even communicating through a specific game.
Documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed that the NSA and CIA actually embedded themselves in games like World of Warcraft to infiltrate virtual terrorist meet-ups.
With PlayStation 4, it seems likely that simple voice communication could have worked just fine.
It’s still difficult for investigators to monitor IP-based voice systems compared to a mobile network.
In 2010, the FBI pushed for access to all manner of Internet communications, including gaming chat systems.
The FCC refused to grant the FBI access to peer-to-peer communications, but the government agency did build its own rigs to record their communications in pursuit of criminals in organized chats, like a paedophile trying to lure kids via Xbox Live.
Most consoles today come equipped with such capabilities, as nearly anything you do on your unit can be recorded if you want, in this age of YouTube and livestreaming.
An Australian Federal Police investigator told ChannelNews several months ago that they were concerned that would be terrorists could use gaming chatrooms inside gaming networks to send coded messages.
It’s now believed that terrorists could simply be in a PSN party together and chatting away mostly free from the fear that anyone is listening because of the difficulty and infrequency of governments eavesdropping on those forms of communication.
It remains unclear just how much access the Australian government has gotten to places like PSN and Xbox Live in the past few years, but whatever it is, it’s likely still short of its ability to track more traditional forms of communication, such as mobile phones and computers.
By last count, PSN alone had around 110 million users, 65 million of them being active. Both Microsoft and Sony have over one million users in Australia.
While government agencies can often build profiles of suspected terrorists based on their Internet or communication history, it’s much harder to profile someone based on console usage, if that data is even accessible.
Few users would visit extremist’s sites in the PSN Web browser for instance or brag about future attacks in a public game lobby. There is no collection of games that really should raise “suspicion” about possible terrorist ties in an era where terrorism-filled Call of Duty titles are the best-selling games of the year, every year. How do you “profile” a gamer when information is not easy to access, and probably will tell you nothing even if you could get your hands on it?
Forbes said recently that the scary part of all this is that there are probably still a number of ways that terrorists could send messages to each other without speaking a word, if they really wanted to.
An ISIS agent could spell out an attack plan in Super Mario Maker’s coins and share it privately with a friend, or two Call of Duty players could write messages to each other on a wall in a disappearing spray of bullets.
It may sound ridiculous, but there are many in-game ways of non-verbal communication that would almost be impossible to track. To do so would require an FBI or NSA agent somehow tapping all the activity on an entire console, not just voice and text chat, and that should not even be technically possible at this point.
While the makers of burner phones were once criticized for making it easier for criminals to communicate, it seems unlikely Microsoft and Sony will face the same scrutiny (not that they should). And yet, they may be inclined to start providing easier ways for governments to monitor specific accounts or consoles than what’s readily available now. Because as it is, the most popular gaming devices also happen to be the most effective at connecting not just the world’s friends, but the world’s enemies as well.