IN THE 1983 movie “WarGames,” a young hacker played by Matthew Broderick inadvertently accesses a fictional supercomputer belonging to the U.S. military. Before realizing he has found a system the North American Aerospace Defense Command uses for war simulations, he searches for computer games. The list he gets back starts with classic games like checkers and bridge, but to his surprise, it also includes games called “Guerrilla Engagement” and “Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare.”
Turns out the Department of Defense likes to play computer games in real life too.
More than 40 “security awareness” games are available for anyone to play on the website of the Center for Development of Security Excellence, or CDSE, a directorate within the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, the largest security agency within the U.S. government. The DCSA, which refers to itself as “America’s Gatekeeper,” specializes in security of government personnel and infrastructure as well as counterintelligence and insider threat detection. (The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
The games range from crossword puzzles and word searches about how to identify an insider threat, to games with more peculiar titles like “Targeted Violence” and “The Adventures of Earl Lee Indicator.” The trove of games looks like an artifact from the late ’90s: game titles announced in WordArt, award badges that look designed with Microsoft Word, “Matrix”-esque backgrounds of falling numbers, and stock photos (some still watermarked).
Some of the games themselves are presented in formats prone to security vulnerabilities. For example, some look like they were made using freely available PowerPoint magic eight ball templates, despite the file format’s potential for containing malware. Playing the magic eight ball games also requires downloading and opening files, exposing players to potentially malicious attachments. Heightening this risk, it appears not all the games have a carefully guarded provenance: The metadata in a magic eight ball game called “Unauthorized Disclosure,” for instance, indicates that the file was originally stored in a personal Dropbox folder.