This is a collection of short in-character fiction pieces about Awakened Industries, a group of capsuleers and their crews living in the enigmatic and dangerous regions of Wormhole Space in EVE Online. None of the protagonists are actual characters or corporations in-game. All similarities with persons fictional or real are possibly coincidental and only sometimes intentional. - Emergent Patroller

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18 Feb 2014

TRS - Shadow Warfare - Spying in EVE Online Part 2

In the first part of this guide I covered most of what it takes to prepare yourself for a spying career. In this second instalment I am going to go for the meat and potatoes: What you can do as a spy, how to make ISK with it, and how to wage the shadow war in earnest.

So let's get started!

Strategy and Tactics

There are many different things you can do as an embedded spy. Some will be simple and will yield you ISK in a short time, but they will also expose you and make continued operations difficult, if not impossible. Others will take longer and will be more sustainable, but they involve a lot more patience and investment. I will touch on some strategies you can choose and some methods you can apply. You can do as many of those things as you like and/or have time for. The more you do, the better it is of course. 
  • Suicide bombing In EVE this is generally known as Awoxing. What you do there is choosing the right moment to turn against your corpmates. It can be as simple as tackling a friendly target for the enemy to kill or it can be more complex, like providing a cyno for a fleet that drops them right in front of the guns of an enemy force. In any case, you make sure someone on your side dies to enemy fire through direct participation. This is not something I would advice, except when you have decided that you want out anyway.  Awoxing is impossible to hide and will mean the end of your career with that character. It is not very rewarding except if you are mainly aiming for tears. The best you can get out of it ISK-wise is possibly some really expensive loot.
  • Theft Like awoxing, this usually means the end of your spy career. It is possible but quite hard to get away with a big corp theft unnoticed. If you go for this, make sure it is worth it. Before you go for a corp theft, check out the character bazaar to see whether there is any character on sale that is at least your skill level. Compare the cost for that character to the potential ISK you can make by stealing. You should at least be able to pay for a new character and then have a comfortable starting wallet. For those who are interested in this approach, there is actually a whole guide on the subject.
  • Illogistics One of my personal favourites. Alliances depend on logistcs. The larger they are, the more they do. Logistics are not a popular thing to do, so chances are that people will be thankful if you participate in it. By fueling POSes, or at least transporting fuel, you can learn where important towers are and gain their passwords. Like that one where they log off the bridging Titan, or the super secret wormhole operation where they make T3 cruiser materials. It's even better if you get far enough in the ranks to be the one who sets up the POSes. Moving assets and seeding markets is a bit more advanced fare because it will require you to have a carrier or a jump-freighter. However, if you are part of the team that moves stuff around or buys ships in highsec for the alliance, you will usually be among the first to know when there is going to be a major operation and where it will happen because alliances often prepare deployments by moving ships and materials into the area in advance. A good way to become involved is to help the logistics team by lighting cynos for them. That's easy to train for and you need no special roles for it either. This way, you can also find out how the logistics chain is set up and who is involved in it. Being instrumental in logistics provides you with a lot of potentially lucrative information and great opportunities for theft and disruption.
  • Snake in the garden of New Eden You identify the sources of internal dissent and you stoke the fire. Whenever you hear complaints, you subtly encourage them. For starters, don't come up with your own drama, but latch on to everything that develops. Make sure the rumormill is merrily turning. If player A whines about issue B and player C independently starts complaining about it too in your presence, tell C about A's complaints and then go on to tell others how A and C have been complaining to see whether the dissatisfaction has potential to spread. If there is material to discredit a director or an FC take special note of it and slightly exaggerate everything bad you hear. Chances are that the Chinese Whisper thread will escalate. Also, pay particular attention to suspicions about someone being a spy. Encourage and spread those whenever you can. They will detract attention from you and distrust is always good for internal destabilization. Corps, and even alliances, can dissolve into failcascade through internal drama. It is difficult to quantify though and best reserved for times when you have a fixed employer who will just pay you for generally messing with things. It can also be perversely pleasurable to do. In the very best case, you can identify and groom potential defectors who would switch sides to your customer.
  • Open backdoor policy Involve yourself in recruiting. Hang around in any public channels your corp and alliance has and be helpful there. Especially when the main recruiters are not online, you can engage with potential recruits there and then help the recruiters by telling them about the conversations you had. Try and get into the recruiting team or at least become a trusted assistant. If you can do that, you will get access to APIs that people submit for application. If those people are accepted, the APIs will become a hot commodity. If a corp requires a full API, then this will provide a lot of information including eve-mails. Also, if you become part of recruiting, you can get more spies in for your customer. This can be dangerous, because you will have to expose your identity to your customer (See Mistakes to avoid below). Only do that if you fully trust your customer contacts.
  • Black Sheep Scout This is mostly useful if you are already contracted by someone for spying and you are directly involved in field intelligence during battle. If you are scouting for the fleet you are just one step behind the plans of the FC and you will know where the fleet goes, what the plans are, which ships they have etc. Opposition FCs will be able to make good use of this information. You can also supply false information to your own FC, but be careful with that. If you derp too much with scouting you can lose the privilege to do so, and if you overdo it you can actually be exposed as a spy.  In it's most extreme form, this method can be like Awoxing and you intentionally lead a fleet into disaster. Only do that if it's really worth it. Protip: Do not use your main character to relay information. Open a convo with an alt account on a minimized client that you keep active next to your main window.
There are of course even more things you can do. You could become part of the industrial wing which also gains you information about the structural backbone of the alliance. You could become involved in PVE and collect information about the habits of the carebears. You could even try and become an FC or a director. My examples above are all things you can do right from the beginning and mostly with low skillpoints. They are also the things I have the most personal experience with (except theft and Awoxing. I actually never did that because it's too high profile).


 

Customer relations

The most difficult thing for the independent spy is to find contracts and to make money off their spying activities. First of all, a lot of people will just use alts which they try and get into opposition alliances to do the spying themselves. You, as an outside operator, will have to provide more and better information than they can get themselves this way. Another difficult thing is to build up trust with a potential customer. You are betraying your own corp, so why would they trust you? By far the most complicated issue is payment. Here I'll elaborate on the ways you can use to overcome those difficulties. For this part - as in general - I will work with the assumption that you had to submit a full API during your application. If you did not have to, then you will have an easier time with many things. It is good practice to play things really cloak-and-dagger anyway.
  1. Making contact Once you have decided on potential parties you want to sell information to, open up a trial account and send an EVEmail to all the individuals you consider suitable contacts. In that EVEmail you provide an out-of-game email address to get in touch with you. Do not use an address you use for anything else. Make a new account on gmail or a similar free email service. Contact as many different corps and alliances as you can. My best experience was with NPC nullsec alliances who are PVP oriented or an opposing faction in sov warfare who has their main strength in another timezone. 
  2. The sales pitch In your initial contact mail, you offer something for free to establish a rapport. Select information that you consider valuable enough for your potential customer. Also make sure it is not something they could already know easily by having spies in place themselves. On the other hand don't give them your most valuable piece of information. An internally announced deployment is too little, and the plans for a whole invasion is too much, but if you happen to know that there will be a deployment a few days ahead of time, that will be just right. The location of a manufacturing POS is not enough, the location and password to a wormhole operation is too valuable, but a CSAA which you happen to know has just been seeded with materials for a supercap, that is a nice choice. In any case, make sure it is something that you can definitely deliver. Nothing will be worse for you at this stage than delivering flawed intelligence.
  3. .... Now you wait and see whether you get a response, either by mail or by seeing that someone you contacted made active use of your information. If they actually wrote you back, then you are set up. If they write nothing but still obviously act on the provided intelligence, contact that party again with your trial account or make a new one and reference the prior mail. Tell them that you can provide more if they are willing to pay for it. If nothing happens at all, go looking for other parties and try again. Repeat this process until someone bites. Once someone is actually offering money for your services, you can step up the game. You can offer more and more valuable things. Go to town once you have a customer reeled in and secured. The goal here should be to become contracted as a spy for a longer time. If someone is willing to pay you a fixed amount per week to have you do your job, then you're on the right track.
  4. Profit Actually getting paid is among the most difficult things in this whole spy game. Obviously you will not be contacting your customers with your main account, and you will not be able to transfer ISK to your main from an unaccountable source either. At least not if you submitted an API with wallet access. If not, then knock yourself out and laugh about the lack of security your marks have. Usually, though, you will have to pay for your opened trial account as soon as you receive money on it from your customers (because trial accounts can not transfer ISK). The good news is, you only need to do so for one month. Shortly before that month ends, you open up another trial account and transfer the money over to that one. You will have your customers transfer money to whichever account you are using at this point in time. Eventually you might get contracted for work on such a scale that you can actually PLEX your account and still make a profit. This account will become will then become your agent and your anonymous Swiss bank account. At the high point of my career I kept my go-between account afloat with PLEX and still make above 500mill on top of that. Doesn't sound that much? Don't forget that you are playing the game on your main and also make ISK there. People make less with other ISK making alts they use for PI, manufacturing or mining, and what you are doing is so much more exciting. Also, you are not spending any of that ISK. If you are into that kind of stuff, use it for station trading with your alt and make even more.
  5. Cashing out At one point you might decide that you have had enough of spying inside one corp or alliance. You can then decide to go out with a bang and end your career with a theft or with Awoxing a jumpfreighter full of BPOs and Officer Modules, or you can just leave and find a good excuse for it. People leave from one corp or alliance to another all the time. If you made it this far you should have no trouble coming up with a good reason. At this point, you can actually get at the money you earned as a spy. Make sure you first delete your API! Then you can transfer money over to your main, and repeat the process I mentioned under the point Cleaning house  in part 1 of this series. Make sure your money transfer is buried under lots and lots of wallet transactions. It will also make it more believable later that you have a lot of ISK. You just made it all by turning full-on carebear for some time, right?

Mistakes to avoid 

As a final chapter, I want to address a few things you should not do as a spy. Some of them might seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how often people get exposed. Especially the throwaway alt spies are generally very reckless. If you want to play a spy professionally, look out for the following pitfalls:

  • Asking too many questions People who ask too many too pointed questions, especially when related to things covered by opsec, draw suspicion onto themselves. Make sure you ask your questions of many different people and ask them at moments when they come across as just idle or situational.
  • Knowing too much It's a bad move to give out information to your customer that only you and a very few other people with completely spotless records could have known. If you want to give out information that is kept under any level of secrecy, make sure that at least one other person who knows about it is already suspicious.
  • Giving the customer too much information about yourself You don't know for sure how many spies your mark has inside the organisation of your customer. If someone talks too much they might actually expose your true identity by unintentionally letting a spy from your side know who you are. People should be keeping a very tight lid on who their spy contacts are, but don't rely on it.
  • Fooling around with APIs Some people will try to avoid submitting an API, or at first try and submit one that isn't quite what the employer asked for. Don't do that. Recruiters will usually either refuse you immediately or mark you as suspicious. You should not appear as if  you have anything to hide. On the other hand, if they don't ask, then don't tell either.
  • Risking too much Some of the tactics I propose carry the risk with them that you might overdo things. You could be labelled as a rumourmonger, an incapable scout, a sycophant, hell even something as ridiculous as people believing that you attract bad luck. Keep it subtle and in balance. 
  • Interacting in-game with your alt You and your agent/banker alt are to be kept absolutely seperate. You never transfer anything between the two for as long as someone has a valid API to your main. No ISK, no mail, no nothing. You might not be under full scrutiny all the time, but act like you are.
  • (IRL) bragging Do you like to post on forums, on reddit or on news sites? Would you like to go to meetups or Fanfest? If so, never tell anyone that you are a spy. Don't brag! Remember one thing: There are no famous active spies! If you want to write about it, wait until you have left that career behind you for good - like me.
  • Reacting with your main on this post If you want to be a spy and you would like to tell me how great it is that I helped you with this guide, then don't use any account that people can trace to your in-game name. I am still happy to read positive feedback, of course, just do it anonymously.

Summing it up

So here I will stop my wall of text. Have I told you everything to know about spying and every little trick? No, of course not. There are still many blanks you will have to fill in and more things you can come up with if you are cunning, creative and devious. If you get really immersed in the spy game, there might be a point where a whole new layer of EVE Online covert metagaming will open up for you. Should you end up there, I can promise you that it will overshadow everything you have read here.

Personally, I consider the professional spy career one of the most exciting but also one of the most insane things you can do in this game. I stopped eventually because (among other things) it was starting to mess with my head.

One final advice: Never underestimate the level of vindictiveness EVE players can have IRL if they ever find you out. Beware of that happening. More than anything else.

May you bring down whole alliances without firing a single shot.

9 comments:

  1. Very good articles, I've read both so far. I'd be interested in some of the technical methods used to avoid spy detection.

    The majority of this seems to be good IT security. Keeping your characters and APIs clean and separate just seems like it would take some organization and forethought, but once you're using alliance authorized resources out of game, it gets trickier.

    Do you need to use a VPN program or browser anonymizer when accessing alliance websites or resources in case they track IP Addresses and match to other common EVE sites? Short of having a completely separate machine to avoid reporting back statistics, how else can you protect yourself from detection?

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    1. Knowing your IP address does not mean they know your browser history. Its not like Corp A and Corp B are going to share login data with each other (that probably infringes on several privacy laws in some countries). If it really bothers you, you can easily change your ip address every month or so.

      Also, api keys only record the last 8k or so journal transactions... if you really need to clean it up, go station trade for a week or two.

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    3. TBH I never went that far with my planning. Then again, I was sorta protected by someone who is extremely paranoid about IT stuff.

      One thing I can say is, stay clear of the Goons and the Russians. Both groups have some serious hacker types among their membership.

      Then again, working for the Russians can be very lucrative, while working for the Goons is largely impossible. They simply don't trust you if they don't know you.

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  2. When you use some public EVE sites or applications that take API keys, you can expect that they are saving the IP address you are connecting from, and associating them with your EVE characters. If they run their own services as well, they can cross check the connecting IP addresses and see if it raises a flag with characters that shouldn't be allowed to connect.

    Here's a public example of how some of the services being tracked this way can cause problems, if you don't take the proper precautions:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Eve/comments/1ubtjk/story_banned_from_n3_for_rooming_with_a_bl_dude/

    Would something like Tor be a good way to avoid suspicion? I figure you'd be changing your connecting IP a lot so it would make it hard to track - whether that's good or bad I don't know.

    A VPN program would let you keep your IP addresses for connecting to legit vs spying stuff completely separate.

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    1. Well, I never used the same API for any online or third-party app that I used for corp applications. Also, I never used anything online with my agent/bank account connected to it. So I don't see how people could connect the two ever?

      Just because they know my IP (through forum posts let's say) they still don't know I'm doing dodgy business on the side. How would they?

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    2. Right... so lets say the Alliance you're spying on requires full API keys to register for their services. Now they know all the characters tied to that account, and the IP address that registered them. They can also see the IP connected to your account for hosted alliance services like Forums, Jabber, Mumble, Teamspeak, etc.

      Now lets say you use a public service, like Kugutsumen or posting on TheMittani.com, where your IP is logged, and the people who run the site can associate it with your in-game name. If you post using your actual account name and not your spy account, that will get associated eventually over time.

      If you use a third party service for your legit account where they store API information, such as Fleet-up.com (hosted by Noir.) or possibly GARPA (Goonswarm), that's another place they can harvest API information for IP cross referencing. I have no idea if any of the other tools that require APIs "phone them home" or can be trusted completely. Noir has said they won't look at the API data Fleet-up stores, and I have to take their word for it.

      Now they can put all the accounts tied to that IP address together, they'll know if you have characters in a hostile corporation. Bam - Commissared.

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    3. Here's an actual example of this happening and the consequences:

      http://themittani.com/news/cfc-destroys-alleged-titan-spy

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    4. Sure, they can get all that IP information, I still don't see how they would find out that I am spying. After all, I am just some guy playing on their side. The account that interacts with the opposition will never ever interact with them (and should not post on forums etc.)

      I also remember the thing where the Goons were collecting IPs by using a forum signature that would link back to them when the post was loaded IIRC.

      It is a problem that only affects people who run spies and are members of an enemy corp at the same time. Sure, If I have an account in BL and I post on Kugu, they can cross reference my login data there with my login data on their own forums. Only I would never do that.

      I guess I could have included that in my guide, but then again, it does not apply to people playing a spy the way I propose here.

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