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Thursday, August 11, 2016

To Poke or Not to Poke

To Poke or not to Poke, that is the question we will be pondering today.

Last week, Niantic which produced the game Pokemon Go had finally opened their servers for Malaysia.  And the responses were tremendous.

Almost immediately, you get to see people posting in their Facebook and other social media accounts their latest Pokemon catch.

But not all are happy with the game. 

Religious authorities and some government agencies have since made their views known that they do not favour the game.  

Let's not argue about that, shall we?

Let's have a short look into the game. 

Let's be truthful on this.  The game itself is harmless.  If played responsibly, it is a good socialising tool.  I've seen people discussing about the game and their experience on the game.  And these are people who seldom play games.  Well, as far as I know.

Even the game's concept is not really dangerous.  The problem is the players themselves.  Walking into drains, onto major traffic line.  Driving while playing.  These are not peculiar to the game.  And it is reflected across all mobile platform.  

Heck! I've even knocked into a tree while replying to a Whatsapp and I immediately replied I just knocked into a tree.

The danger is the users themselves getting distracted.  There's even a video of a poor fellow falling into the river while playing the game.

Conceptually, the idea implemented into this game can also be implemented in other newer games.  And you don't kill an idea, even if want to.

Now we're getting to the red light part of the game.  Or rather the real danger posed by the concept (rather than the game).

One of the basic concept of the game is to utilise the phone's assisted GPS data.  The GPS data is used to identify the location the player is and to generate random Pokemon or characters for the game.  Combined with the usage of the camera to 'see' the characters, this allows the game to 'capture' the player's position and photos of the surrounding.

Many security watchers assumed this is the threat that is being posed by the game.  Players may inadvertently play the game in a restricted area and capture classified-level information that would be relayed to the server, which in turn would be picked clean by the relevant intelligence agencies.  Personally, this is not the actual threat.

There are 2 possible conceivable threats.

First is individuals with ill intention may use certain functions of the game to create disturbance at major choke points.

Two types of scenarios come to my mind.  Either to create a lure for people to crowd a location before launching an attack or to crowd an area with collateral to infiltrate a location. 

The first scenario is plausible.  Some of the victims of the Munich attack claimed that they had went to the McDonald's as someone had posted that there's free food at the location.  Turned out the attacker had hijacked a friend's social media account and posted the fake advert.

The second scenario is also plausible.  A criminal can create a gym at a police station or any other locations he/she wants to infiltrate and many thoughtless zombies will rush to the location, thus hampering the work.  Already, a police station has highlighted that it had been tagged as a gym.

The second type of threat is more novel.  

Niantic allows owners of locations to request that their locations to be taken off the list as Pokemon hunting ground.  So far, Hiroshima Memorial site and US Arlington National Cemetery has requested to do so.

Therefore, it is likely nations globally may choose to request certain sites to be off-limits to the game.  The real danger is here.  

Any intelligence agency puke will combine this data with Google Earth requests with names of organisations which had requested for the data blackout.  Combining these 3 info, you get to find all classified locations in a certain country.  All you need then is to have either an ISR platform to monitor the location or to plant humint in the area.

So, should the game be banned? 

No.  The ban won't work.  Plus the problem is the concept, not the game.  Don't miss the forest for the tree.

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