Late on Friday night, Paris was brutally hit in a highly coordinated terrorist attack that ISIS later claimed responsibility for planning. At least 127 people died in the massacre, with gunfire and explosions injuring more than 300 people. The team of agents planned and carefully executed the hit, targeting various sites inside and around the French capital, including the stadium where a football match between France and Germany was underway and where French President Francois Holland was in attendance.
That means the attackers were likely communicating with each other before the event, as this sort of operation can’t be pulled off without thorough planning. But instead of using encrypted mobile devices, like iPhone or Android devices, the attackers may have been using an unexpected communications platform, Sony’s PlayStation 4 console, a report speculates.
According to Forbes, communication inside console games is rather difficult to monitor and record given the large number of games available and the huge number of players involved in multiplayer games at any given time.
Evidence turned up in investigations near Brussels reportedly included at least one PS4 console, Forbes said, before retracting that comment. But the communications inside games might pose serious problems to intelligence agencies.
“PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp,” Belgium’s federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon said at a debate last week organized by Politico before the attack on Paris took place.
At this time, there is no solid evidence the console was indeed used to plan the Paris attacks, as the investigation has yet to yield any conclusions. But, as The Express points out, the console was used by a 14-year-old Australian boy to reach out to ISIS in June and download blueprints of a bomb. The teenager was sentenced to a two-year jail term after pleading guilty to the charges.
This proves that the unlikely communication method does work and is used by people looking to cover their tracks.
Investigators can’t monitor voice communication inside games as easily as they would track cell phones and email. Documents revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 showed that the NSA and CIA embedded themselves in games like World of Warcraft to potentially infiltrate virtual terrorist meet-ups, suggesting secret agencies were aware of this particular threat.
As Forbes points out, PSN has 110 million users worldwide and 65 million of them are active ones. That means it’s rather difficult to actually get any intelligence out of the PS4’s online universe. In addition to the most obvious types of in-game communications, including voice and text methods, attackers could manipulate the in-game elements to talk, like writing messages to one another by spraying disappearing bullets on walls in shooter games like Call of Duty.
Other similar means of communicating might allow members of the same organization to conspire without leaving any traces. Tracking such activity “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,” Forbes notes.