War Thunder Players Once Again Post Military Documents On Forum

An unclassified look at an F-15E Strike Eagle

An unclassified look at an F-15E Strike Eagle
Photo: aviation-images.com (Getty Images)

You may remember that one of the funniest stories of 2022 was the way that players of War Thunder—an arcadey online shooter featuring real military vehicles—just kept on posting military documents in the game’s forums. Not as acts of espionage, but to win arguments about specs.

I am incredibly happy to report, then, that this is shaping up to be one of 2023’s funniest stories as well.

The last time we checked in on these guys it was some tank players, who despite ban after ban just kept on sharing detailed, classified information on currently-operational Main Battle Tanks and their armaments.

This week we’ve seen a similar thing happen, only now it’s about fighter aircraft. As Massively OP report, earlier this week a player “shared military documents related to the F-16 fighter jet in order to win an argument”. The problem is that those documents, while not designated as classified military documentation like the tank guys’ stuff, was still restricted material “under the jurisdiction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a State Department-enforced law that limits disclosure and transmission of US weapons data and information to foreign individuals, including distribution on the internet”. So, not classified, but still not the kind of thing you should be posting in a video game forum.

Then, just a day later, someone else was at it again! This time a different user posted excerpts from over a dozen weapons system manuals for the F-15E. Again, these weren’t classified—indeed they were for systems old enough that they had been declassified—but like I’ve already said, just because something isn’t classified doesn’t mean you can freely post it on internet forums where anyone in the world can see them. So they were deleted as well.

I said this last year but I will say it again now, the fact that a video game’s forums have become one of the greatest opsec hazards of the modern age, just because some dudes want to argue over a weapon’s statistics, is very funny.

U.S. Military Documents Leaked To Minecraft Discord Server

This weekend, the U.S. military was faced with a massive document leak that could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine, and officials say that it’s one of the “most damaging in decades.” The leaks originated from a small Discord server, and then spread to a popular Minecraft one.

The Wall Street Journal reported that “hundreds” of these files were originally uploaded on a small Discord server with mostly American users. These sensitive documents were reuploaded to a larger community. In March, they were spread to a Minecraft Discord server. From there, they spread to popular but chaotic imageboard 4chan, Twitter, and messaging app Telegram. The Department of Defense started investigating once a Russian propaganda account posted edited versions of these documents to the social media platform Telegram. Fifty of the leaked files were classified as “Secret” or “Top Secret.”

These leaks contained information about the types of weapons being used by Ukrainian forces and the U.S., details on Ukrainian air defense systems and offensive capabilities, battlefield fatality statistics, and communication about U.S. military allies. It seemed that these documents were posted onto the Minecraft server during an argument about Minecraft maps and the war in Ukraine.

The leaker’s account and all their messages related to the leak have been deleted from the server at the time of writing, so there’s a lot of context missing. But from what remains of the conversation, Kotaku can confirm that the map-showcase channel was talking about the war in Ukraine. Someone appeared to become upset about jokes on the Russian invasion, and it seemed that the leaker had posted the files to prove that the war was real. “Here, have some leaked documents,” responded the leaker before uploading photographs of classified documents, some of which have been viewed by Kotaku. A couple of server members reacted positively, and then the conversations after that were entirely about Minecraft. Apparently, these Minecraft fans can’t identify a federal crime if it took place in front of them. “This shit was sitting in a Minecraft Discord server for a month and no one noticed,” an investigative reporter told CNN.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the Ukrainian president, believed that the leaks did not originate from Russia. “If you have a working channel for receiving intelligence from the Pentagon, you will not destroy it for a one-day information drive,” he wrote on Telegram, noting that an actual intelligence agent would pretend that they did not have the information. He speculated that the pro-Russia account had publicized the leaks to distract and divide Ukraine’s allies.

A former FBI executive told the Wall Street Journal that he believed the agency will investigate the leak as a “treasonous” act. Many spooked Discord members are leaving the compromised servers or deleting their accounts. “I left that server and I really hope that I am safe,” one server member reportedly wrote on Friday, according to one of the leakers on the Minecraft server.

Discord is currently cooperating with law enforcement to investigate the breach. “It is Discord’s highest priority to ensure a safe experience for our users. When we are made aware of content that violates our policies, our Safety team investigates and takes the appropriate action, including banning users, shutting down servers, and engaging with law enforcement,” a spokesperson for Discord wrote to Kotaku in an email. “Our dedicated Safety team uses a mix of proactive and reactive tools to keep activity that violates our policies off the service, including advanced technology like machine learning models, equipping and empowering community moderators to uphold our policies and Community Guidelines, and providing in-service reporting mechanisms. Our team also proactively takes additional measures based on wider platform trends or intelligence they receive.” According to a screenshot posted into the Minecraft Earth Map server, Discord urged the administrators to remove content that “promoted illegal activities.”

This is not the first time that sensitive military information has leaked within a gaming community. War Thunder, an MMO dedicated to military vehicles, has seen instances where players have leaked weapon schematics to win internet arguments no fewer than four separate times. Gamers, please stop leaking classified military documents on gaming platforms.

 

Looks Like Microsoft Was Responsible For Leaking Its Documents

Microsoft is currently facing an unprecedented leak of confidential plans and conversations around both the recent past and coming future of Xbox. Sensitive documents meant only for the eyes of the court involved in the Federal Trade Commission’s failed battle to stop Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard were accidentally uploaded to public servers, revealing plans for Xbox Series X/S console refreshes in 2024, a remaster of the beloved open-world RPG Fallout 3, and more. Who’s to blame? Microsoft, apparently.

The last batch of redacted exhibits in the historic legal battle were finally made public on the Northern District Court of California’s servers on September 14. News began spilling out earlier this week about Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s take on Switch 2 hardware specs as well as Microosft’s plans to release its 10th generation console in 2028. On September 19, however, a ResetEra user discovered that one of the PDF files actually contained hidden, unredacted exhibits exposing confidential email exchanges, PowerPoint presentations, and meeting notes.

These leaked materials offer the most candid inside look yet at what’s been going on behind closed doors at Xbox from 2019 to 2022. The leaked documents detail cost estimates for getting games like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Assassin’s Creed Mirage onto Game Pass, plans for new controllers, hardware, and operating systems, as well as Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer’s thoughts on trying to acquire Warner Bros. Games, Valve, and even Nintendo. All together, these leaks constitute a massive breach in an industry that often operates at heightened and sometimes ridiculous levels of secrecy.

Some Xbox fans, who are loyal to and defensive of the brand in ways often reserved for hometown sports teams, immediately started to blame the FTC. There was speculation that the regulatory agency, or some rogue member within its ranks, uploaded the wrong version of the files as payback for losing its anti-trust case against the tech giant. The agency, however, was quick to dismiss those rumors.

“The FTC was not responsible for uploading Microsoft’s plans for its games and consoles to the court website,” tweeted Douglas Farrar, director of its Office of Public Affairs. He later shared a new court order released by the judge in the case, Jacqueline Scott Corley. It called for both the FTC and Microsoft to meet again to go over the issues with exhibits, and placed the blame squarely on the latter for the latest leak.

“The Court ordered the parties to meet and confer and provide the Court with a secure cloud link to the admitted exhibits with the redactions set forth in the Court’s orders,” she wrote. “Microsoft provided the link on September 14 and the Court uploaded the exhibits to [the] internet page established for this case.”

Following today’s leak, the court nuked every remaining document pertaining to the FTC case from its server, something it did previously after an earlier batch of documents was uploaded with missing redactions. It’s unclear when the exhibits will return in their correctly redacted forms, but for everyone who follows the video game industry closely it won’t matter, as copies of the documents are already circulating far and wide.

Microsoft has yet to publicly acknowledge the historic breach, or comment on its contents. Spencer and other members of the Xbox team are headed to Japan this week for the 2023 Tokyo Game Show, where it will livestream a showcase on September 21.

Update 09/19/2023 4:45 p.m. ET: Spencer tweeted about the leaks late in the day, writing that it is “hard to see our team’s work shared in this way because so much has changed and there’s so much to be excited about right now, and in the future.”

He said Xbox will share its “real plans” when it’s ready.

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