Some have said that it’s the beginning of a cyber war. Others have simply called it Wikileaks.
The events surrounding Wikileaks and the media circus that followed have captured the attention of the world.
So much information and misinformation has been bandied around that it’s difficult to find the truth of the matter hidden in the hoopla.
“The government is just trying to control what information is getting out,” said a Penn Manor student, “I don’t think that this should be such a big deal that people are making it out to be.”
However, many students had no idea what the word “Wikileaks” even meant, “What’s a Wikileak?” asked one, “Is that a part of Wikipedia?”
First, let’s start at the beginning. Wikileaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange and stated it’s reason for being: to leak any and all abuses in power in government, including torture, unlawful detention, cults, corruption, and corporate transparency. Since then, it broke stories on gag orders in the press and massacres of civilians.
Assange, 39, was born in Australia. He began hacking at 16 and was a recreational hacker. After serving time in jail for breaking into a website, he was released on good behavior. It appeared that he had simply broken the website in question just because he could.
But that was 20 years ago. Assange no longer identifies himself as a hacker.
Wikileaks was the site which released the climate scientist’s emails showing how some of the scientists had falsified data to make the climate change argument seem more pronounced than it was.
In 2010, they began to release some of the 250,000 documents collected from United States diplomatic cables. Nine hundred of these documents were published in different world news sources before in collaboration with news outlets, but now the full set is available for users to download. Many of these documents were labeled classified or secret.
“He’s heroic,” said Penn Manor student Alex Mercer, “I think this is awesome.”
Assange was arrested in Great Britain recently when he walked into a police station after a warrant was released for his arrest in Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual molestation charges.
Initially, the authorities did not want to pursue his case, as the sex was consensual and the two women affected were only seeking compensation (he had sex with both of the women, but the condom was either not used or broke – which in Sweden can be considered a sexual offense). But after the cables were released, then he was suddenly an international fugitive.
The diplomatic cables were often embarrassing to the United States government, some with diplomats questioning world leaders’ right to rule. Naturally, politicians wanted Assange’s head.
The effect of the documents? Sarah Palin called for Julian Assange to be hanged for treason, although Assange is an Australian. She has been quoted saying, “He’s no journalist – he’s an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.
“I think the man is a high tech terrorist. He’s done an enormous damage to our country, and I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said GOP Minority leader Mitch McConnell, “And if that becomes a problem, we need to change that law.”
Assange is not, by most strict definitions, a terrorist, since a terrorist is someone who seeks to inspire fear and terror into the populace. Assange has stated numerous times that the goal of Wikileaks is to provide a transparent insight into government.
The leaks also have been said to endanger troop safety. The newest cables were from February this year. Many of them date from as early as December 1966.
“It’s a national security risk,” said student Vaughn Stetler, “I have nothing wrong with Assange himself, but his website should be shut down. Some clarity is good in government, but leaking secret documents isn’t good.”
The military has now banned using thumb drives, CDs, and DVDs on the Department of Defense’s network, SIPRNET – which stands for Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. The penalty for violating this order? Court martial.
The military is pursuing the prosecution of army corporal Bradly Manning, who is the man taking the blame for leaking the documents. Manning downloaded the documents onto a recordable CD, and gave them to Wikileaks.
Lady Gaga had a role to play, too. According to MSNBC, Manning also “listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in american (sic) history.”
There is at least one irony in the situation: the federal government just released a press statement announcing the 2011 World Press Freedom Day.
Another thing is that Wikileaks is a media outlet, whether cable news likes it or not. The message that seems to be sent out to other world leaders is that this is how the United States deals with journalists sending out things that they do not agree with.
Early in November, the cyber war began.
First, Wikileaks was bombarded with a series of attacks against it’s website, taking the official wikileaks.org site down within days. It struggled to survive, until finally going to its mirror sites. Wikileaks has over 1300 identical sites listed on its website, each one based in different locations around the globe.
The site refused to die. Then Pay Pal pulled its services from the website. That was the last straw for the internet hackers.
On Wednesday, December 8 the credit card provider Visa’s website went down under a flurry of Direct Denial of Service – or DDoS – attacks. DDoS attacks are relatively simple; send small packets of data to the website in question. With enough computers doing this, it will overload the computer’s ability to process all the data and will shut down the site.
Eight hours earlier, Mastercard had fallen. The culprits? The internet collective Anonymous.
Anonymous has been reported by major news media as many things from internet vigilantes to a group of sinister hackers. The truth is that they are none and all of these.
Anonymous is said to have originated on the image board 4chan, where a user can post anonymously. With that kind of freedom, anything and everything can be posted. That means the 4chan is a breeding ground for memes (cultural trends spread from the internet). Over 9000? That came from 4chan, along with Leroy Jenkins, the phrase Om Nom Nom and LOLcats.
Anonymous sprung from this, when many users came together with a common goal – to take down the Church of Scientology. In what is called Project Chanology, Anon has promised to destroy Scientology and discredit all of their members. The mission to “save the internet” is called Operation Payback or CableGate. They have so far succeeded several times in knocking down the Church’s website.
Anon has been known to hack into people’s accounts and post online, just for fun. They flood online children’s games and post intentionally offensive messages in a practice known as trolling. They also believe that the internet is an almost sacred place and to violate free speech by jailing Assange is grounds to fight back. A common misconception about them is that there is a leader, which is false. The fact that the collective consciousness of the web can work single mindfully toward a common goal might be cause for enemies of Wikileaks to start getting nervous.
“We are the clear logic used to unveil wrongdoing. The general public, clouded by misleading information mostly by the media with a political agenda, fails to see and understand this wrongdoing. Because of this, those who do the wrongdoing escape unpunished. Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it,” said a supporter of Anon in a Wired.com article.
“Anonymous is great,” said senior Ben Clark, “I wholly support Assange.”
Over the weekend, several identical flash animation websites popped up over the web – each one containing a button and a slider. All a user had to do was select the number of requests per second, and press the button. The program would then use the user’s browser to make request after request per second – DDoS made easy.
Twitter and the social network Facebook have deleted several accounts that have said that they either support Anonymous or post the dates of the attack and the sites to be attacked. The organizing websites that directed traffic were hit repeatedly by DDoS attacks.
Several members of Anonymous have been arrested in conjunction with the DDoS attacks. DDoS is illegal in the United States.
Wikileaks continues to exist on one of its 1300 mirror sites, as the original site has long ago been wiped from the servers of the Internet by self labeled “patriotic hackers.”
After a week long barrage of attacks, Anonymous has a new strategy: instead of trying to take down those who are hurting Wikileaks, now they will attempt to spread the posts far and wide. These include posting videos to Youtube with misleading tags like “Bieber” or “Tea Party,” and sifting through the documents and posting summaries of the content online.
Operation: Payback is now Operation: Leakspin.
They might have a good strategy. During the time Wikileaks was offline, it was incredibly difficult for a user to access the documents and decide for themselves whether or not it was such a big deal. Now with the documents being distributed through the 1300 mirror sites, and the help of Anonymous, it might become very easy indeed to view the documents.
On December 14th, a British judge released Assange on bail until his hearing. He still maintained that he is right in releasing the United States documents. The guidelines of his bail are strict. He has to live in his London home until his hearing, in a sort of modified house arrest.
“My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have expressed. This circumstance shall not shake them,” said Assange.
The question now is whether or not he can be prosecuted by the United States government. MSNBC explores the topic in great detail: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/40653249/ns/today/
“The fact that everyone is making such a huge deal out of this is very silly,” said Clark, “The documents basically embarrassed the government, and that’s it.”
“He’s lucky,” said Mercer, “He isn’t under house arrest, he’s under mansion arrest.”
He also made known his disdain for the companies who have made moves to cut him off from funding, “We now know that Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and others are instruments of U.S. foreign policy. It’s not something we knew before.”
The story of Wikileaks, whether or not it turns out to decide the fate of free speech or the web, will be one that will continue to fascinate and intrigue.
By Gabrielle Bauman