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The Deal with WikiLeaks

By Vincent Chang - on 02 Dec 2010, 2:26pm

With its release of up to 250,000 U.S. embassy diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has once again sent world governments in a tizzy. The mainstream media has weighed in, often with less than flattering profiles of the organization and the lightning rod of their attention has been Julian Assange, the spokesperson for WikiLeaks. There are countless articles out there that either condemn or defend the actions of WikiLeaks, so I won't be adding my admittedly meager knowledge to that.

What caught my attention was the way technology played a crucial role in the whole affair. First, the main suspect charged for some of the more sensational leaks from WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, apparently smuggled the information from an army base using a CD-RW labeled Lady Gaga. I'm guessing that like in Singapore, USB flash drives and mobile phones with cameras and that sort of devices are banned from military installations, but a CD-RW, now that's old technology that got past the security. I think that's as good as an endorsement for thin client solutions - the PC is so stripped down that it probably has no USB drives and definitely, no optical drive capable of writing to disc.

When WikiLeaks announced that they were preparing to release the information, the site came under a massive DDoS attack. This led to WikiLeaks moving to Amazon's cloud hosting service which was robust enough to handle the traffic. But, not robust enough to handle the U.S. government, as WikiLeaks was booted out by Amazon following pressure from U.S. lawmakers. So it was back to WikiLeaks' previous Swedish web host. For now.

It's hard to say when another attempt would be made to turn off WikiLeaks. The organization has made many powerful enemies and as the DDoS attacks have shown, the internet is not infallible. Iceland has made some noises about creating a safe and legal data haven, but it won't be ready soon. The alternative would be to host the files on a P2P network, encrypted and mirrored in so many locations that they can't be found and taken down. Freenet comes to mind, though WikiLeaks is already using BitTorrent to distribute its archives of leaked documents.

One could say that a leak of such magnitude would not have been possible even ten years ago, when government databases were locked in their own silos and when P2P and encryption technologies were not as widely available. No doubt, the technological cat-and-mouse game will continue as long as there are governments and organizations with secrets to hide.

Vincent Chang

Vincent Chang / Former Senior Tech Writer

Vincent has written enough about tech to know that he doesn't know enough about tech. But that's not keeping him from going jargon-heavy about processors and mobos. After all, "you can't stop the signal".