Is this the Beginning of Information War?

A few comments on the technological implications of the WikiLeaks saga unfolding over the past week.  My comments on the politics of it all can be found, as always, at Pop The Stack.

World Info War I

This has been called the first InfoWar, I don't know what that means, but it seems to have started already. WikiLeaks has had its websites attacked by mass Denial of Service attacks since the news broke.  These could be arranged by governments or groups of loosely organized people with lots of computers, or even one person with access to lots of computers.

Next, WikiLeaks has been having trouble staying afloat as the various companies they depend on abandon them.  Most are dropping WikiLeaks as clients based on reasons unrelated to the content of WikiLeaks. Companies such as Paypal have used language in their contract about illegal content to drop them.  Their internet service providers and DNS hosts have dropped them due to high load.  Their bank in Switzerland has now dropped them due to an inaccurate living address.This article is a great analysis of what this reveals about some of the core functionality of the new internet, cloud computing in particular.

The counter-attack has apparently now begun as their Swiss bank and Paypal have now come under attack by hackers who are taking the InfoWar ralying cry to heart.

So how does this end? There is apparently still a lot of data to be released and the recent batch of sensitive security cables seems to indicate WikiLeaks is applying almost no filtering on what data is useful or dangerous.  They have also implied that all this data is actually already released in the form an encrypted file that many people have already downloaded.  All Assange needs to do is say the password to a reporter or to anyone with a twitter account and the data will all be release en masse, all at once.

Info War N

I think the most interesting thing about this from a technological point of view is that Assange himself and WikiLeaks are sort of irrelevant at this point. Even if he is arrested tomorrow and convicted of many crimes and WikiLeaks is shut down, this won't be over.  First of all, there is that encrypted file, if it exists.  How do you punish someone who can still blackmail you with a single password.  But beyond that what WikiLeaks has demonstrated is that we have passed a point of no return for controlling information.  The only way to keep  a secret is to not tell anyone.  But if you communicate electronically and share this with anyone then the data will be stored in many places you cannot control and eventually, someone can release it.  The thing that has changed since Deep Throat in the 60s is that 'releasing it' is now super easy.

Assange is no super hacker, he has no magic that allows him to do this.  He just has the information and had to will to push this through and publisize it. But any kid with a computer could do what he's doing if they had the data.  Many people with secrets around the world may just now be realizing that the information they have real power.  The technologies of  the web, email, social media and encryption are now core utilities of the internet that cannot be shut down by anyone.  They can be tracked, they can be watched, they can be tapped.  But the moment one is dropped another will pop up.  Some country will host you, somewhere else will also host a new site.  The new link will be shared on Facebook or Twitter or via email, publisizing is free now.  The data can even be stored in public view so that the keeper of the secret knows you have the goods yet can't actually find all the copies to delete them.  Yet, if you don't release the password, then the secret isn't really out and only the NSA can probably break it.  Maybe this has been happening for years, but the public level of this changes a lot.

These technologies are now all very accessible and used by millions of people every day. What this means is that the next WikiLeaks doesn't need to be anyone with an organization or a degree or even money.  Information is so liquid, so viral now that it literally can't be stopped once it's let out of the box.  So the only options for those keeping secrets are to make sure nothing ever leave the box again (ie. only have face to face voice conversations in soundproof booths), turn off the internet or stop keeping secrets.

I'm not sure this is a good thing, secrets can have their place, people are not always good at handling the unvarnished truth.  But you should expect more of it in the future no matter what happens to WikiLeaks.  The age of the endless Info War may be upon us.

1 comment:

  1. [...] is also that this kind of attack can’t really be stopped. Just as sharing information is virally unstoppable these kind of attacks can always be reinitiated even if you take down the people centrally running [...]