Thursday, December 18, 2008

Murder in Virtual Worlds

According to LinuxInsider, a 43-year-old piano teacher was arrested after she murdered her virtual, recently-divorced husband’s avatar in Maple Story. (Maple Story is Japan’s equivalent to the virtual world of SecondLife). She had apparently used his login information and password (that he gave her during the happy years of their ‘marriage’) in order to perpetrate the crime.

Authorities were first alerted to this crime by the ‘husband,’ who came online to discover the murdered body of his avatar. His ‘wife,’ who was extradited 620 miles across the country to stand trial in his hometown of Sapporo, was charged with illegal computer access and manipulation of electronic data. If convicted, she could face a prison term of up to five years and a fine up to $5,000.

Just a month before the incident, I explored the legality of virtual worlds in the April Alert, My So-Called Second Life: Virtual worlds inherit the security woes of both the physical world and the logical world. This incident, however amusing, shows how the ‘virtualizing’ of society has helped us discover new ways to commit crime.

It’s important to remember that the woman was effectively charged with hacking, not murder. With the advent of World of Warcraft, virtual murder of other people’s avatars has become a passĂ© societal norm. This phenomenon was satirized in an episode of South Park, where the boys united to defeat an ‘omnicidal’ maniac in order to save World of Warcraft from other players’ disinterest.

With society continuously escaping the real world to live virtual world fantasies, carelessly overenthusiastic people can find themselves committing crimes that, in the past, weren’t the hallmarks of felony. Thanks to virtual worlds, you can actually be arrested for killing people who have no lives (avatars, not geeks).

Kristen Romonovich is Associate Editor at the Computer Security Institute. She is dedicated to secure green computing, compliance in the cloud and the security of mobile devices. Learn more at our upcoming conference CSI SX: Security Exchange,, May 17-21 in Las Vegas.

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