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quinta-feira, 9 de dezembro de 2010

#WikiLeaks, Anonymous & the Unfolding Cyberwar, 11 Days In

It's been 11 days since the first batch of U.S. diplomatic cables was released by the online organization WikiLeaks.

A lot has happened in those 11 days. Below is a recounting of the key events, issues and debates that have arisen. There's enough going on that it's almost sure to include some details you weren't familiar with, dear reader, but we also invite you to correct the history we're working on documenting as it unfolds.

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Cables Begin to Be Released

It's been 11 days since the first batch of U.S diplomatic cables was released by the online organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is described on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia dedicated to a neutral point of view in all things, as "an international new media non-profit organization that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous news sources and leaks."

Launched in 2006, WikiLeaks has won numerous awards, from organizations like Amnesty International and The Economist magazine, for exposing human rights violations in other countries around the world.

The newest documents, named Cablegate by WikiLeaks, are now stored on thousands of peoples' home computers around the world and are being downloaded onto more from torrents every hour of the day. The first batch was indexed by the torrent search engine The Pirate Bay within hours of their release and can now be downloaded by anyone in the world in less than five minutes.


The Complicated Arm of the Law

Julian Assange, the intensely controversial leader of WikiLeaks is in a U.K. jail, held without bail for alleged sex crimes but possibly safer there than he would be free. Release of new documents continues daily; WikiLeaks claims to have released so far less than 1% of the cables in its possession.

Of the more than 1,000 documents that have been released so far, 53% were unclassified by the U.S. government, with no security restrictions on viewing them; 40% were classified as Confidential, a security clearance held by more than 3 million people in the U.S. The remaining 7% of documents are classified as Secret, the second-highest security clearance in the U.S. government, behind Top Secret.

The man allegedly responsible for passing these documents to WikiLeaks is in U.S. custody, but it's not clear that WikiLeaks has committed any crimes by publishing the stolen documents.


Doing Business With the Enemy, Or Not, Whoever They Are

Businesses around the Web have stopped doing business with WikiLeaks, from hosting its website to processing online donations for the organization.

Thousands of anonymous people around the world have downloaded software to attack the websites of those businesses, in concert and under the direction of self-appointed and anonymous leaders.

PayPal was taken down through brute force, Visa was down and is now back up, Mastercard is still down after nearly a full day, Amazon withstood the group's attacks and now PayPal has become a target again.

The group is fully permeable, recruited from social networking sites and trained in using the attack software in a dedicated chat room. Law enforcement, security researchers and journalists are known to have infiltrated the Anonymous online chat, but its members are practiced enough at remaining anonymous that they don't seem to care.

This morning a 16-year-old in the Netherlands was arrested for participating in the attacks. Apparently he wasn't as good at being anonymous as the others have become and has reportedly confessed.

The Anonymous communication infrastructure is hosted on a Russian server that claims to specialize in being impermeable to DDOS attacks itself, but the co-ordinators' chat has been taken down several times throughout the past few days by anti-Anonymous counter attackers as well.

Twitter and Facebook have shut down Anonymous accounts, but new accounts are created within minutes and publicized through the group's chat room.

One Big Distraction?

Meanwhile, some have raised the concern that the crude, anonymous battle between Anonymous and businesses that have refused to service WikiLeaks threatens to overshadow the revelations made public in the diplomatic cables themselves.

Those revelations include that U.S. diplomats have spoken candidly among themselves about:

  • spying on international allies (after promising they weren't)
  • lying to the international press when asked if the U.S. military was involved in various conflicts around the world by saying that it was not
  • bribing countries with things like presidential visits to convince them to take released Guantanamo Bay prisoners
  • covering up homosexual child sex trafficking by contractors in the huge corps of private military contractors augmenting the U.S. military around the world
  • and using blackmail-style leverage on parties in climate change discussions who seek more drastic action against global warming than U.S. negotiators support, among other things.

Those items aren't really news, not even if the particular matters hadn't been reported on months or years ago. That the U.S. government is willing to engage in almost endless nefarious actions in defense of its empire is not news, either. Many of its own citizens support that. The news is simply that behind closed doors, U.S. officials explicitly plan the things that critics have long accused them of doing and now the documents are available to eyes around the world.

The anonymous brute force attacks by 3,000 to 5,000 thousand volunteer botnet participants threaten to become the biggest part of the story because that's what's still unknown. Who will they attack next? Can they be stopped? Will their cloak of anonymity ever be lifted?

What will the political consequences of these multiple layers of distributed identity and anonymity be (WikiLeaks, torrented files, DDOS botnets, Twitter, Facebook)? Will the end result be a more repressive global Internet regime? An Internet kill switch? Online anonymity outlawed? Licensing for journalists?

Or will the global political order be remade? It could become more agile, more transparent, more accountable, more distributed, more contemporary, more egalitarian.

No one knows for sure - but that seems to be where we stand right now.


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