By Scott Prater
Your smart phone can score you points. Simply find a landmark, snap a photo, open an application and post the photo there.
The more landmark photos you post, the more points you earn for your team. And that’s not all. This increasingly popular game, known as Ingress, is fun. Players like the fast pace, intrigue and real-world action the latest internet and cell-phone technology can provide. It’s seemingly innocent and harmless entertainment.
At least, that’s what its creators would like people to believe.
At places like Schriever Air Force Base, however, augmented reality games, such as Ingress, can create operational security issues.
In a memo addressed to all Schriever personnel recently, Col. Bill Liquori, 50th Space Wing commander wrote that augmented reality games present a substantial security threat to the installation.
Liquori indicated that by the nature of its application and design, the Ingress game creates an opportunity to provide a cover for surveillance of a possible terrorist target. Given the nature of this security threat to the installation, Schriever Air Force Base personnel are now prohibited from participating in the Ingress game, or any other similar geo-location based game on Schriever Air Force Base. Schriever personnel are also prohibited from escorting any other individuals onto the base for purposes of participating in the Ingress game, or any similar geo-location based game.
Members of the 50th Security Forces Squadron first learned of augmented reality games in April, when they noticed a driver had pulled over near the base’s 9/11 display.
“Patrolmen noticed the driver taking photos of the display with his cell phone,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Stephenson, 50 SFS investigator. “When they approached him, he told them he was playing the Ingress game and he gave them a few details about how it worked.”
Upon hearing the story, Stephenson was curious and desired to learn more about the activity. He interviewed the man and began conducting research about Ingress and other augmented reality games.
He found that Google’s Niantic Labs launched the world-wide role-playing game late in 2012. It was designed as a massive multiplayer game that combined traditional gaming with real-world exploration. Google Maps and GPS technology are also used along with a cell phone’s photo and video capability.
Players score points for their team by using their smart phone to record photographic and location information on specific landmarks in an area, known as “portals,” in the game.
By the time Stephenson began investigating, Ingress players had already logged several portals on base.
That prompted him to begin sharing information about the topic with Schriever’s Air Force Office of Special Investigation, the 50th Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate and ultimately with security forces organizations at other front range bases.
“Stephenson was the backbone of the Ingress gaming investigation,” said Capt. Michael Bruton, 50 SFS officer in charge of Weapons, Tactics and Anti-terrorism. “He made it a point to touch base with all vested agencies, conduct interviews and thoroughly express security concerns in order to appropriately encapsulate the potential mission impact.”
The investigation lasted several months and ultimately led to Liquori’s decision to ban Ingress and other augmented reality games on base.
“It would have been easy for Stephenson to become complacent,” Bruton said. “Instead, he appropriately addressed all legal concerns and pushed the correct information up the chain of command, increasing wing leadership’s situational awareness.”
Just as Schriever has stepped up its situational awareness of this particular security threat, Ingress continues to grow in popularity around the world. It was formerly only available for Android phone users, but Google recently announced an application that allows iPhone users to participate.
Stephenson reminds Team Schriever members to report any suspicious activity on base to the 50 SFS at 567-6464.