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Wikileaks Wrangling May Be Escalating Into Cyberwar

Wikileaks Wrangling May Be Escalating Into Cyberwar

Attempts to shut down Wikileaks in retaliation for its release of a barrage of sensitive U.S. government documents have so far been futile. "Literally thousands of mirror sites have been set up, and the response to attacks has been quite swift," said Antiwar.com founder Eric Garris. "Attempts to scuttle WikiLeaks are like a game of Whack-a-Mole."

By Mike Martin
12/06/10 1:39 PM PT

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange looms like the mysterious British freedom fighter V atop the Drudge Report, threatening a "devastating" confidential document dump if his organization suffers any more hack attacks.

Paypal says Wikileaks and its donors are pals no more.

Amazon.com boots Wikileaks off its virtual cloud, citing vague and unconfirmed suspicions. The leaked documents might prompt errant governments to persecute human rights defenders, Amazon says in a corporate statement. Innocent people, Amazon worries, might be in jeopardy.

Wikileaks fires back, not with a bomb or hand grenade, but a tweet. "Amazon's press release does not accord with the facts on public record. It is one thing to be cowardly. Another to lie."

A War by Any Other Name

The Wikileaks controversy could be devolving into a Wiki-War, with savvy private warriors front-and-center while clueless public officials -- for the first time in warfare's long history -- take a back seat.

"In context of espionage -- especially during a period when the USA is engaged in foreign conflicts -- the battle against Wikileaks certainly takes on a dimension of warfare," history professor Brian Carso, who directs the Misericordia University program in government, law and national security, told TechNewsWorld. "Using the espionage/warfare analogy, the USA should take powerful steps to shut down Wikileaks."

The hacker communityalso considers the Wikileaks situation "in some ways a cyber war," said computer forensics and security expert Darren Hayes, a professor at the Pace University Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. "Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who reported [document leaker] Bradley Manning to the authorities, was severely chastised at the recent HOPE (Hackers On Planet Earth) Conference where he spoke. He defended his actions, stating that Manning and WikiLeaks over-stepped when they put lives and the security of this nation in jeopardy."

The term "cyber war" strikes Brooklyn Law School information technology professor Jonathan Askin as too strident, however.

"'Cyberwar' sounds like Orwellian New Speak," Askin told TechNewsWorld. "The overtones and innuendo sound too ominous for the technological maneuverings between the players. To me, the battle points to the need for better international laws, treaties, principles, standards and processes."

Get Off of My Cloud

If Wiki-War it is, Amazon.com helped start it by kicking Wikileaks off its cloud computing service, a shared server group Amazon claims hosts hundreds of thousands of customers that must legally own their hosted content.

Wikileaks couldn't possibly own copyright to all the documents it's been loosing on unsuspecting governments, and so is in violation of Amazon Web Services terms of service, Amazon representative Kay Kinton reiterated to TechNewsWorld.

Charges that a government inquiry or denial of service attack led to the adverse action are also "inaccurate," the company maintains in a statement Kinton cited.

Wikileaks has charged Amazon with lying, an accusation that data from Cloudsleuth, a Compuware Corporation effort that monitors and analyzes cloud system performance, only partly supports.

CloudSleuth did find evidence of an Amazon denial of service attack, but also found the attack had little impact on Amazon's other cloud residents.

"If there was a denial of service attack on Amazon, then there would be tell-tale clues," CloudSleuth software developer John Krcmarik told TechNewsWorld. Although CloudSleuth found such clues, "on all but two of the backbone nodes, there was 100 percent cloud application availability," to other customers, he added. "This may have been due to the quick response of Amazon engineers to the cyber attack."

Wiki Warfare

Amazon's motives sound reasonable enough, but the company is nonetheless being sucked into a vortex of negative publicity. For instance, leading nonprofit antiwar news site Antiwar.com launched a boycott Dec. 2 designed to decimate Amazon's bread and butter: its giant retail operation.

Wikileaks has been charged with no crimes, Antiwar.com founder Eric Garris maintains.

Indeed, by exposing sneaky governments, Assange and company are doing the world a huge favor, he said.

Garris'group accuses Amazon of unethical behavior, citing lack of notice to Wikileaks about the cloud computing contract termination.

"If WikiLeaks had chosen to terminate the contract with Amazon, they would have been required to give 30 days notice," said Garris. "Yet Amazon gave no such notice; they just unplugged the servers."

To facilitate the boycott, Antiwar.com has removed referral links and advertisements from its own site that it claims generate about $150,000 annually in sales for Amazon. [*Editor's Note - Dec. 6, 2010]

And in an ironic counterattack, Antiwar.com is launching a domain Monday that will automatically direct users to the most accessible WikiLeaks mirror in their area.

"Literally thousands of mirror sites have been set up, and the response to attacks has been quite swift," Garris told TechNewsWorld. "Attempts to scuttle WikiLeaks are like a game of Whack-a-Mole."

Wikileaks Unstoppable?

Julian Assange may be perched aside a virtual freight train with no brakes. Leaks of the sort Assange releases "cannot be controlled," Brian Anderson, chief marketing officer of cloud computing security and management provider BeyondTrust, told TechNewsWorld.

Such attempts will at best "slightly suppress" the situation, he said, and at worst, lead to more -- and more devastating -- leaks.

"The organizations WikiLeaks is exposing are focusing their hateful energies on Julian, but for the foreseeable future, some online forum for leaking confidential data will always exist, and so will the people leaking data to WikiLeaks," Anderson explained.

Antiwar.com's Garris agrees.

"The WikiLeaks drama is indeed becoming a sort of cyber war, but the response proves that such a war is virtually unwinnable," Garris told TechNewsWorld. "The Internet is so diverse and dynamic, there is really no way to shut down an organization like WikiLeaks that enjoys such popular support. The hosting and funding options are so many that it is virtually impossible to stop."


*ECT News Network editor's note - Dec. 6, 2010: Editor's Note: Our original published version of this article states that "Antiwar.com has removed referral links and advertisements from its own site that it claims generate about $10,000 annually for Amazon." Wendy Honett of Antiwar.com supplied this clarification: "We earn about $10,000/annually through Amazon referrals. Which means we generate about $150,000 in sales for Amazon."


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