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Nerds keep leaking sensitive data on wargame forum
Players have broken smuggling laws to try and help developers make the video game War Thunder more realistic.
Days since the last illegal post on the War Thunder forum: zero.
The combat-themed video game has gained quite a large fan base by allowing players to pit fighter planes, warships, and tanks from different historical eras against each other.
Some players have military or defense industry jobs that expose them to these machines in real life. Every once in awhile, one of these players will try to “help” game developers or win an argument on the official War Thunder forums by posting internal documents about a weapons system they work with.
The leaks have included American, British, French, and Chinese data. Obsessive online nerd behavior is international.
Of course, sharing sensitive military information is frowned upon by most governments, which creates a legal headache for Gaijin, the Hungarian company that runs War Thunder. The forum actually features a disclaimer against posting “Classified information and Export-restricted military-technical data,” which will result in a user being permanently banned.
Players keep doing it regardless.
The latest two leaks concerned American-made military planes. On Monday, a player posted a manual for using the AIM-120 missile on the F-16 fighter jet. Two days later, another player posted a series of manuals for the F-15 fighter jet’s software.
None of the manuals are classified, but they are possibly covered by U.S. arms control laws, which restrict weapons data as well as the weapons themselves. In other words, sending missile blueprints to a Hungarian business is like exporting actual missiles, in the eyes of the U.S. government.
For awhile, crypto algorithms were a controlled “dual-use” technology.
I have previously written about how political actors have exploited the Internet to leak data and spread propaganda about each other, often under the guise of anonymous accounts. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here.
The leaks on the War Thunder forums have included equipment from countries all over the geopolitical map: Britain’s Challenger 2 tank, France’s LeClerc S2 tank, and China’s Type 99 tank, along with the DTC10-125 anti-armor munition that the Type 99 fires.
Nor are the leaks particularly useful to intelligence agencies, as experts told the Washington Post last year. Although the data is illegal to share, much of it has already trickled out, and governments have better ways to get their hands on the rest than video game forums.
So the War Thunder leaks seem to be a case of genuine obsessiveness. Gamers are willing to take personal risks and break national security regulations in order to make their online hobby more realistic. That’s apparently true for American airmen and Chinese tank crews alike.
“We’re happy that even military professionals like what we do,” Gaijin founder Anton Yudintsev said in the same Washington Post article. “But breaking the law in order to win an argument online is too much. I’d like to ask all of them: Please, never do that!”
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