Someone tipped off Biscuit Carroll that his island had been targeted for surveillance, so he went with his security expert Loki Clifton, to figure out if they were being spied on. After an arduous search, they finally found the bug.
"Was just here where our previous meeting room was," Biscuit tells me, as we stare down at the foyer of his conference center. "Loki tried to select it, it was just too small."
What they located, Loki Clifton explains, is "a device that repeats what it hears to either a channel or to its owner or list of people."
"We were doing an object scan on the parcel because it was suggested that we should be alert to this, by someone who makes bugs," Carroll continues. Surveillance devices are not uncommon in Second Life, often used by Residents to spy on their virtual world lovers, if they suspect they're being unfaithful. (An alternative, in other words, to hiring a private SL detective.) But more frequently, with the influx of money and projects from real world companies and entrepeneurs looking to score big in Second Life, Carroll believes, they "are now being used widely for industrial espionage."
The devices are widely sold, in-world and on the web, through SL e-commerce sites. Buy one, hide it in the right place, and your chat log will include a handy copy of what everyone within listening distance of the bug says. In most circumstances, using these runs directly counter to Second Life's Linden-enforced Community Standards; specifically, clause four, which forbids "Remotely monitoring conversations, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without consent." Then again, as in the real world, when it comes to sexual jealousy or ruthless business competition, some don't always feel bound by the niceties of law.
Corporate espionage is a particular concern for Carroll, because his island serves numerous clients, both Residents and real businesses interested in the Second Life's many commercial opportunities. "We're an accredited developer," he tells me, "we run in-world tours, we do virtual conferencing and we sell holodecks."
They still don't know who planted the listening device, or when. They suspect it happened at a time when they had construction crews working on the island, because to allow them to do their job, Biscuit Carroll set the land to "Build" mode. (Meaning, anyone can instantiate and create objects there.) So while the crews went about building, the theory goes, the spy surreptiously slipped in, and laid down his device.
Landowners can guard against dangers like these, Loki adds. "Set land to No Build, then only allowed people can make things." The security expert has some bugs of his own, but "I could not rez my tool if I was in a No Build land."
"So that prevents a lot of possible events on corporate land," I point out, "like sandbox [building] competitions and such." Carroll nods. If security is the utmost concern, in other words, it means strictly restricting the very thing that makes Second Life unique.
"It has changed my attitudes to chat in public locations," Carroll says. "I think everyone who has a corporate presence should understand enough about estate tools to scan their sim."
Scan their sim-- and their avatars.
Loki Clifton draws his pistol, sets it to a custom mode, and shoots me.
"Hamlet," he announces, "I just bugged you. I shot a bug and it's now stuck to you. It's very small and almost unselectable. You would never know it. [An] object scan would show a object. But you would have a hell of a time finding it. I have a lot of tools like that because of me SL security work."
To find Loki's bug, I would have to strip down and remove all my attachments-- and procure the services of someone like Loki, to do the scanning.
"You can put a bug in anything with a prim," says Biscuit, "i.e., hair or a tie." He glances at the front of my suit. "Grey ties are a big target."
Some bugs allow spies to hear conversations anywhere in the world, but Loki tells me that this particular bug he's put on me can only monitor nearby conversations on this island. I don't believe it, so I fly away from Loki Clifton and Biscuit Carroll, past 25 meters (beyond normal listening range), and keep flying until I'm hundreds of meters away.
When I'm at the edge of the ocean, with no one around, I say something: "I'm wholly skeptical that this bug works."
I fly back to the building where Clifton and Carroll wait.
"'I'm wholly skeptical that this bug works,'" Loki repeats back.
"You can be as skeptical as you like, Hamlet," Biscuit Carroll tells me. "The effing thing works."