Wednesday, 8 December 2010

World Infowar I

The story so far: allegedly one Private First Class (2nd rung above civie street) Bradley Manning of the US army, whilst on a tour of duty in Iraq, reported to work with a Lady Gaga CD, wiped the music and overwrote the CD with 260,000 classified documents (possibly using several CDs over several days to get the complete set.)

PFC Manning

The documents were available on SIPRNet, a parallel internet run by the US Department of Defense, hosting the same applications as the regular internet, eg email, web pages and the like, but in a secure environment. This network hosts documents up to the level "SECRET". Access to this network is restricted to about 3 million personnel, both military and civilian.

This data was then passed to Wikileaks, a web site devoted to hosting leaked documents. Wikileaks has an obscure origin; it is thought to have over 1,000 people involved in running it on part-time basis, but its self-proclaimed Editor-in-Chief is one Julian Assange, an Australian with a background in hacking. (The identity of those who actually own and run Wikileaks is unknown - possibly Assange is also the owner but that is by no means certain.)

Julian Assange

Shortly after Wikileaks started releasing these 260,000 documents Mr Assange was accused of two sexual offences (one rape, one harassment) during a visit to Sweden; his Swiss bank account was frozen, and MasterCard stopped processing payments to Wikileaks. Assange was arrested in London, refused bail (not unreasonably since he refused to provide the court with a UK address) and at the time of writing resides in HMP Wandsworth (a London prison.)

Some people think to see dirty tricks in this concatenation of misfortune to assail Mr Assange at this time.

But the harassment is not all one sided. "Hacktivists" have come to Assange's and Wikileak's defence. MasterCard's website has been attacked by a Denial of Service attack and effectively taken down (although the system used by stores is still working.) The Swiss bank, PostFinance, has also been targeted and their website rendered inoperative. Their press release said, "Access to www.postfinance.ch and thus also e-finance is currently overloaded owing to a multitude of online enquiries."

"Online enquiries," in one way of describing a DOS attack.

The Swedish public prosecutor's office has also come under fire.

So it seems World Infowar I has now broken out. The US government is determined to persecute the person it holds responsible for the leaks, and the Internet community is equally determined to hit back.

The opinion of this blog is simply: why on Earth did the Americans ever expect documents available to three million people to remain secret?