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WikiLeaks: A Case Study in Web Survivability

Tony Bradley, PCWorld
… The fact that WikiLeaks remains stubbornly and defiantly online holds some lessons for other sites when it comes to resilience and survivability. …

WikiLeaks remains stubbornly online despite losing multiple hosting services and being targeted by DoS attacks.In a word (or four), it’s called “single point of failure”. You don’t want any. In fact, if you’re WikiLeaks, you want to build redundancy on your redundancy and be able to survive not just a single point of failure, but a virtual meltdown of cascading failures.

… Even if your organization can’t build a network with limitless redundancy and virtually invulnerable survivability, the lesson for IT and Web admins is to identify and eliminate as many single points of failure as possible. No one service outage or server crash should take your site down. Consider the entire network path of your Web traffic and–to the extent that it is possible and affordable–implement redundant secondary systems to eliminate and single points of failure.
(9 December 2010)
Lessons for us in how to avoid collapse — avoid “single points of vailure.” -BA

Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It’s your choice

John Naughton, Guardian
Western political elites obfuscate, lie and bluster – and when the veil of secrecy is lifted, they try to kill the messenger
… There is a delicious irony in the fact that it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamouring to shut WikiLeaks down.

Consider, for instance, how the views of the US administration have changed in just a year. On 21 January, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, in Washington DC, which many people welcomed and most interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google. “Information has never been so free,” declared Clinton. “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”

She went on to relate how, during his visit to China in November 2009, Barack Obama had “defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.” Given what we now know, that Clinton speech reads like a satirical masterpiece.

One thing that might explain the official hysteria about the revelations is the way they expose how political elites in western democracies have been deceiving their electorates.

… What WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out. In the last decade its political elites have been shown to be incompetent (Ireland, the US and UK in not regulating banks); corrupt (all governments in relation to the arms trade); or recklessly militaristic (the US and UK in Iraq). And yet nowhere have they been called to account in any effective way. Instead they have obfuscated, lied or blustered their way through. And when, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger.

As Simon Jenkins put it recently in the Guardian, “Disclosure is messy and tests moral and legal boundaries. It is often irresponsible and usually embarrassing. But it is all that is left when regulation does nothing, politicians are cowed, lawyers fall silent and audit is polluted. Accountability can only default to disclosure.” What we are hearing from the enraged officialdom of our democracies is mostly the petulant screaming of emperors whose clothes have been shredded by the net.

… But politicians now face an agonising dilemma. The old, mole-whacking approach won’t work. WikiLeaks does not depend only on web technology. Thousands of copies of those secret cables – and probably of much else besides – are out there, distributed by peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent. Our rulers have a choice to make: either they learn to live in a WikiLeakable world, with all that implies in terms of their future behaviour; or they shut down the internet. Over to them.
(6 December 2010)

Massive Release of Raw WikiLeaks Files Threatened if Assange Harmed

Theunis Bates, AOL News
Julian Assange’s lawyer has warned that supporters of the WikiLeaks founder will unleash a “thermonuclear device” of government files containing the names of spies, sources and informants if he’s killed or brought to trial.

Assange, the 39-year-old Australian who has most recently embarrassed the U.S. by leaking hundreds of previously secret diplomatic dispatches over the past week, has dubbed the unfiltered cache of documents his “insurance” policy. The 1.5-gigabyte file, which has been distributed to tens of thousands of fellow hackers and open-government campaigners around the world, is encrypted with a 256-digit key, reports The Sunday Times. Experts interviewed by the paper said that even powerful military computers can’t crack the encryption without the key.

Contained inside that file — named insurance.aes256 — are believed to be all of the documents that WikiLeaks has received to date, including unpublished papers on the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and papers belonging to BP and the Bank of America. Assange has previously suggested that the documents are unredacted, meaning they contain names that normally would be removed before publication to protect the lives of soldiers, spies and sources.
(6 December 2010)

WikiLeaks avoids shutdown as supporters worldwide go on the offensive

Joby Warrick and Rob Pegoraro, Washington Post
The tale of WikiLeaks is fast becoming the litmus test of the robustness of the internet.

Over the past several days, the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks has been hit with a series of blows that have seemed to threaten its survival. Its primary Web address was deactivated, its PayPal account was frozen and its Internet server gave it the boot.

The result: WikiLeaks is now stronger than ever, at least as measured by its ability to publish online.

Blocked from using one Internet host, WikiLeaks simply jumped to another. Meanwhile, the number of “mirror” Web sites – effectively clones of WikiLeaks’ main contents pages – grew from a few dozen last week to 200 by Sunday. By early Wednesday, the number of such sites surpassed 1,000.

… the Web site’s resilience in the face of repeated attacks has underscored a lesson already absorbed by more repressive governments that have tried to control the Internet: It is nearly impossible to do.

Experts, including some of the modern online world’s chief architects, say the very design of the Web makes it difficult for WikiLeaks’ opponents to shut it down for more than a few hours.
(9 December 2010)

WikiLeaks, the web and the power of the people

Dan Nolan, ABC (Australia)
… what is actually going on? Well if you’ve been keeping up with this fascinating story, you’ll have seen that WikiLeaks is getting DDoSed (distributed denial-of-service attack) constantly and has been forced to jump from server to server in order to stay up. There are two sides to this story. The first is the DDOSsing, it’s a bit of a nerd concept but it’s actually pretty straightforward. If you’re in a queue at say your local McCafe to partake in the great Australian pastime, you wait until its your turn and you get served. If say there’s a lot of people in line, the cafe will roll out staff and the queue will split. That’s how things normally work on the internet, people send a request to a server and get a response. Imagine that you crammed the entire population of NSW into this McCafe and had them all screaming at the staff to give them an order – nobody would get served. That’s basically the point. A DDOS is a kind of toddler reaction: “Well if I can’t have it, nobody can.” Though there are indications that the current DDOS comes from governmental sources, there is no real hard evidence to link them to the attacks. That’s the first half.

The second half is the political motivations of the companies that were initially hosting WikiLeaks. Under assault from this DDOS, WikiLeaks migrated to the biggest system on campus, Amazon’s cloud hosting environment. Not just a bookseller, Amazon operates one of the cheapest and easiest ways to host a heck of a lot of content and have the grunt to share it to millions of people. Amazon yanked WikiLeaks hosting a few days ago, under claims that they were in violation of the Terms of Service of the site. It would appear that Joe Lieberman had approached Amazon and castigated them for offering hosting to WikiLeaks. This is all part of the policy of making WikiLeaks’ information much harder to obtain and much harder to get access to.

This is the part in which the government is directly involved, attacking or threatening companies that provide support to the organisation to host the material.

An example of the information being made more difficult to get to is WikiLeaks’ DNS provider, EveryDNS, removing their record a few days ago. What this meant is that the URL to WikiLeaks wouldn’t resolve to the actual IP address that the server is. DNS is pretty much the phone book of the internet, you look up the person you want and the DNS advisor returns their number which is managed all transparently by your web browser. The vast majority of domain names you would purchase or use come from ICANN, which is run by the US. For domains to resolve, generally, there are several root or main servers scattered across continents that provide the ‘record of record’ so to speak.

… You’d think with their domain name gone and their site constantly under attack that would be just about the end of it for WikiLeaks, but it isn’t for one very simple reason, the Streisand effect. Named for whom you would expect, the Streisand effect is the concept that, online, attempts at censorship or stopping the flow of information only increases the interest in that information and due to the digital nature of the content, propagate it everywhere. Knowing that they were under assault, WikiLeaks created a ‘mirror program’, where you could submit a few details giving them admin access to a server you owned and they’d copy a complete mirror of the site over to it if necessary.

The fact that there are now over 300 mirrors and counting, shows that the Streisand effect is now an unstoppable force online.

… All talk that this will set back whistleblowing several decades is pabulum. If anything this current situation has proven quite effectively that there is a place to send leaked and confidential information to that will review it and will make sure it gets media attention. You no longer have to rely on the efficacy of governmental processes or whistleblower protections, you can anonymously and confidently send confidential information to WikiLeaks without fear of it being traced back to you. WikiLeaks protects its sources with a fervour and passion that seems to be leaving the journalistic field.
(9 December 2010)

WikiLeaks a blueprint for things to come

Mark Pesce, ABC (Australia)
… everyone with any authority everywhere is doing everything they can to close the gaps in the smooth functioning of power. They want all of this to disappear and be forgotten. For things to be as if WikiLeaks never was.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic cables slowly dribble out, a feed that makes last year’s MP expenses scandal in the UK seem like amateur theatre, an unpractised warm-up before the main event. Even the Afghan and Iraq war logs, released by WikiLeaks earlier this year, didn’t hold this kind of fascination. Nor did they attract this kind of upset. Every politician everywhere – from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Vladimir Putin to Julia Gillard has felt compelled to express their strong and almost visceral anger. But to what? Only some diplomatic gossip.

… A few months ago I wrote about how confused I was by Julian Assange’s actions. Why would anyone taking on the state so directly become such a public figure? It made no sense to me. Now I see the plan. And it’s awesome.

You see, this is the first time anything like WikiLeaks has been attempted. Yes, there have been leaks prior to this, but never before have hyperdistribution and cryptoanarchism come to the service of the whistleblower. This is a new thing, and as well thought-out as WikiLeaks might be, it isn’t perfect. How could it be? It’s untried, and untested. Or was. Now that contact with the enemy has been made – the state with all its powers – it has become clear where WikiLeaks has been found wanting. WikiLeaks needs a distributed network of servers that are too broad and too diffuse to be attacked. WikiLeaks needs an alternative to the Domain Name Service. And WikiLeaks needs a funding mechanism which can not be choked off by the actions of any other actor.

We’ve been here before. This is 1999, the company is Napster, and the angry party is the recording industry. It took them a while to strangle the beast, but they did finally manage to choke all the life out of it – for all the good it did them. Within days after the death of Napster, Gnutella came around, and righted all the wrongs of Napster: decentralised where Napster was centralised; pervasive and increasingly invisible. Gnutella created the ‘darknet’ for file-sharing which has permanently crippled the recording and film industries. The failure of Napster was the blueprint for Gnutella.

In exactly the same way – note for note – the failures of WikiLeaks provide the blueprint for the systems which will follow it, and which will permanently leave the state and its actors neutered.
(6 December 2010)

How to Think About Wikileaks

Alexis Madriga, The Atlantic
In the days since WikiLeaks began releasing a small percentage of its cache of 250,000 cables sent by State Department officials, many people have tried to think through the event’s implications for politics, media, and national security.

Writers pulling at the knot of press freedom, liberty, nationalism, secrecy and security that sits at the center of the debate have produced dozens of fantastic pieces. We’re collecting the very best here. This page will be updated often. New links will be floated near the top of this list.

Send suggestions to amadrigal[at]
(8 December 2010)
Interesting compilation of opinion. -BA