Sunday, March 04, 2007

Second Life as Terror Tool

There's been a fair amount of news lately about events in the game Second Life that have real world effects. At the CounterTerrorism Blog, they look at how the game can be used as a tool for real-life terrorists:

Streaming video can be uploaded into Second Life and a scenario can easily be constructed whereby an experienced terrorist bomb-maker could demonstrate how to assemble bombs using his avatar to answer questions as he plays the video. Using the decentralized organization effect, already successfully used by SL companies, the bomb-maker and his pupils can be spread around the globe and using instant language translation tools (available in the world) could be speaking a variety of languages. Just as Real Life companies such as Toyota test their products in Second Life so could terrorists construct virtual representations of targets they wish to attack in order to examine the potential targets vulnerabilities and reaction to attack. But possibly by far the most useful tool currently available to radical groups is the ability to transfer in-world money between avatars that can be translated into real currency. The Second Life currency of Lindens (approximately $270L to $1US) can be bought using a credit card in one country and credited to one avatar (account) and can be given to a co-conspirator avatar in another country. The person controlling this second avatar can then convert these lindens to the real-world currency wherever they are based using a local credit card or paypal equivalent. Clearly the ability to transfer money in this fashion is a very useful function. While Linden Labs sets a limit on the amount of currency an avatar can buy or sell (typically $5000US) this is likely to change and $5000 gets you a long way in many parts of the world.

Money transfers would seem to be the most useful and simple terror tool. Recruitment might pose as many challenges as it does opportunities for terrorists, inasmuch as the CIA or any other anti-terror agency could pass for a potential Al Qaeda recruit far more easily in a virtual world than in real life. Similarly, a 'dry run' terror attack in Second Life is extremely limited in the potential it holds for real life lessons, because reactions in the real world will be quite different.

Added to all this is the fact that everything that happens in Second Life is presumably monitored and tracked by 'Linden Labs,' and so the information is only as secure as Linden Labs wants it to be. If they co-operate with federal authorities in providing information about suspicious activities and money transfers, then terrorists are vulnerable.

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