The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

The hugely pop­u­lar “aug­mented re­al­ity” video game “Poke­mon GO,” where users chase vir­tual crea­tures in the real world with hand­held de­vices, is cre­at­ing new se­cu­rity wor­ries around the world, ac­cord­ing to a State Depart­ment re­port.

“What has be­come one of the world’s most pop­u­lar mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions over the course of the sum­mer is now caus­ing headaches among se­cu­rity per­son­nel in both the pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ments around the world,” the re­port by the Over­seas Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil (OSAC) says, adding that the game has “at­tracted con­tro­versy for con­tribut­ing to se­cu­rity in­ci­dents and be­com­ing a nui­sance at both pub­lic and pri­vate lo­ca­tions.”

The in­ter­nal 5-page re­port, “Poke­mon GO … Away?” was pro­duced by OSAC, a State Depart­ment-led group that as­sists Amer­i­can com­pa­nies over­seas. The game was re­leased in July in the United States and 49 other coun­tries in the Amer­i­cas, Europe and South­east Asia.

The game is not au­tho­rized in China based on mil­i­tary con­cerns that players will dis­cover se­cret fa­cil­i­ties. How­ever, players in China can use the game close to borders of Hong Kong, Viet­nam and Laos, the re­port said. Chi­nese press re­ports have de­scribed the game as a U.S. in­tel­li­gence tool. “Don’t play Poke­mon GO!!! It’s so the U.S. and Ja­pan can ex­plore China’s se­cret bases!” wrote one user on the mi­croblog Weibo, Reuters re­ported.

Players use mo­bile de­vices con­nected to GPS to spot and cap­ture the vir­tual crea­tures, and the game has been down­loaded some 130 mil­lion times world­wide.

The re­port warns that points of in­ter­est used in the game, known as “Pokestops” or Gyms, can be used by ne­far­i­ous ac­tors to con­duct covert sur­veil­lance.

“The pri­vate sec­tor has ex­pressed con­cerns with is­sues such as tres­pass­ing by the play­ing pub­lic and the in­se­cure na­ture of em­ploy­ees us­ing GPS lo­ca­tors that can be seen and tracked by po­ten­tial male­fac­tors, as well as an in­creased dif­fi­culty of dis­cern­ing harm­less players from po­ten­tial sur­veil­lance threats,” the re­port said.

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have dis­cov­ered that for­eign in­tel­li­gence ser­vices or ter­ror­ists seek­ing to con­duct sur­veil­lance would be dis­tinct from Poke­mon players by the use of cam­eras in hand­held de­vices that are not re­quired for game play.

“An in­di­vid­ual ac­tively catch­ing a Poke­mon will likely use two hands, one to hold the phone and one to play the game, and it should take no more than a minute or so,” the re­port said. “Even if us­ing aug­mented re­al­ity, the phone should not be held or aimed above eye level and should be sta­tion­ary for the du­ra­tion of play.”

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials can re­quest that the game’s stops be re­moved from play at lo­ca­tions such as ceme­ter­ies, gov­ern­ment build­ings, col­lege cam­puses, places of wor­ship, in­dus­trial sites or power plants, busi­nesses and cor­po­rate cam­puses and other lo­ca­tions.

Gamemaker Niantic ad­vises against shar­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from other players, and to play safely while not driv­ing or cycling.

Sev­eral in­ci­dents have oc­curred in­volv­ing “Poke­mon GO,” in­clud­ing a July mug­ging at­tempt in Las Ve­gas when players who were car­ry­ing firearms ended up in a shootout. Also in July, a group of teens in Missouri staked out places where players would visit and robbed them.

Another se­cu­rity con­cern is that em­ploy­ees are us­ing of­fi­cial phones to play the game, ex­pos­ing the phones to at­tacks from ma­li­cious soft­ware.

“A num­ber of pri­vate-sec­tor or­ga­ni­za­tions and gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties alike have banned such play, al­though the abil­ity of or­ga­ni­za­tions with BYOD (Bring Your Own De­vice) poli­cies to do the same re­mains neb­u­lous,” the re­port said.

Ger­many’s Volkswagen banned its 70,000 em­ploy­ees from play­ing the game on com­pany time. European air­craft man­u­fac­turer Air­bus also warned em­ploy­ees that Poke­mon ac­tiv­ity at one plant had threat­ened se­cu­rity. Iran’s gov­ern­ment also banned the game, cit­ing un­spec­i­fied se­cu­rity con­cerns, and Israel’s mil­i­tary banned play on of­fi­cial de­vices cit­ing con­cerns about leak­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion such as army base lo­ca­tions or pho­to­graphs of mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions. In­done­sia banned po­lice and mil­i­tary per­son­nel from play­ing the game on duty.

U.S. and for­eign in­tel­li­gence agen­cies could use the game to fa­cil­i­tate es­pi­onage ef­forts since spies pos­ing as players can go near in­tel­li­gence tar­gets in the search for game crea­tures pos­si­bly with­out rais­ing sus­pi­cions.

The Pen­tagon warned con­trac­tors last sum­mer about its se­cu­rity con­cerns over the game and asked that sev­eral game points of in­ter­est be re­moved. USFOR-A, but the con­se­quences for [the Afghan gov­ern­ment] are even greater.”

A cam­paign is needed to “wrest the in­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tive” from the in­sur­gents.

The con­trac­tor will be based in Kabul and will seek to bol­ster the com­man­ders’ strate­gic cam­paign ob­jec­tives with out­reach to Afghan au­di­ences.

Work will also in­volve so­cial me­dia for the Army on Face­book, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.


The Over­seas Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil (OSAC) warns that “Poke­mon GO” has put users’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion at risk, as well as con­trib­uted to “se­cu­rity in­ci­dents … and a nui­sance at pub­lic … events.”

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