Hungary-based game developer Gaijin Entertainment found themselves in a tactically difficult position last week when a user of their combat simulator War Thunder tried to win an online argument by sharing classified documents in the company's game forums.
The unfortunate security breach came during an online debate over the game's representation of the British Challenger 2 main battle tank, with different factions of users debating the various merits of the version in the game compared with its real-life equipment and record.
A user named _Fear_Naught_ then decided to end the debate around the War Thunder Challenger 2's armour and its relative vulnerability to being hit around the turret ring, or the point where a tank's turret is mounted to its hull.
To this end, he shared a number of pages from the tank's Army Equipment Support Publication (AESP), a form of user manual for military personnel who have to work with the vehicle.
The extracts involved were labelled "UK Restricted", but these labels had been crossed out and stamped "Unclassified". However, as Techspot pointed out, British documents which have had security restrictions removed are generally referred to as "Declassified" rather than "Unclassified", which rather calls into question who stamped the documents and under what authority.
_Fear_Naught_'s online avatar on the Gaijin forums links back to another user profile named Pyrophoric, who identifies as a 40-year-old male from Tidworth, Wiltshire, UK. Tidworth Camp is the base in the UK for various elements of the Royal Armoured Corp, including several that use the Challenger 2.
Gaijin, for their part, were less than impressed with Pyrophoric's efforts. Moderators and community managers shortly dived on to the offending material like Sturmovics on the Kursk battlefront and removed it as soon as it became clear there was an issue.
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They contacted Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) to clarify the material's status and a later forum posting by Gaijin senior technical moderator Templar_ copied the MoD's response, and also clarified Gaijin's position on the uploading or linking of potentially security-restricted material:
From DE&S (Defence Equipment and Support), MoD Abbey Wood: I can confirm that it does appear to be a genuine extract... It certainly has not been released under FOI previously by DE&S or considered for redacting. We also do not recognise the 'Unclassified' stamp as something that has been used in DE&S.
We have written confirmation from MoD that this document remains classified. By continuing to disseminate it you are in violation of the Official Secrets Act as stated by the warning on the cover of the document, an offence which can carry up to a 14 year prison sentence if prosecuted. Of this you are already aware, as a service person you have signed a declaration that you understand the act and what actions it compels you to take. Every time you post this you place us (International representatives of Gaijin), especially any UK citizens, in hot water as the warning so helpfully states that unauthorised retention of a protected document is an offence.
In response to eager users asking if the documents Pyrophoric had posted would be incorporated into the company's version of the Challenger 2, another Gaijin representative – community manager Smin1080p – worryingly added:
Before any discussion, handling or bug reports are even made, proof of this documents declassification will be required as well as where it was sourced form [sic]. If it is declassified, it should be available to the public.
Last time such a document was shared that was claimed to be "unclassified" it was in fact still classified and was confirmed that it should never have been shared.
We make it very clear that we will not handle any source material unless it is publically [sic] available and fully declassified with the rights to prove that.
The rather alarming reference to a "last time" refers to not one, but two previous occasions when users have attempted to upload classified documents to War Thunder forums with regard to design details of the Challenger 2.
"That's why we already knew these kinds of documents were classified and reacted instantly," Anton Yudintsev, co-founder of Gaijin Entertainment, told us. "There were other cases as well that involved other nations' vehicles."
According to a quote given to defence blog Overt Defence, the UK's MoD stated: "This incident will be reviewed and if appropriate, an investigation will be launched, and mitigations put in place to prevent reoccurrences."
When asked about the user in question, Yudintsev told us: "We've banned the user at the forum forever." It also appears that all of his previous posts have been deleted, although it is unclear by whom.
Yudintsev said, when asked if Gaijin would co-operate with security services to identify the leaker of the information: "We'll do what the law requires from us."
So with all of the extra free time the leaker now has, it might be a good moment for him to order some brown camouflaged trousers. ®