12.10.2010 11:47 AM

Slamming the cyber-door after the cyber-horse has left the cyber-barn

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has resulted in what some had foretold – a massive, global web-based attack on the web presence of corporations and governments. Here, in turn, is some of the newspaper reaction this morning:

But the cyber war against these companies, in retaliation for cutting off WikiLeaks, takes the anti-social behaviour of these “hactivists” to another level. It also dramatically underscores how vulnerable the Internet is to attack by ruthless and unscrupulous criminals, and how the world urgently needs an enforceable cyber-security protocol. As retired Canadian diplomat Paul Meyer notes in the current issue of Policy Options, the UN has been talking about it for a decade without getting it done.”


Information security experts warn, however, that Canadian corporations and several government departments are not properly ensuring sensitive data aren’t stolen or lost. This is especially problematic because attacks by hackers are on the increase and are becoming more sophisticated. The experts warn that countries and terrorist organizations are increasingly relying on hacker techniques to wage war on their enemies.


The New York Times, for example, was the Julian Assange of the Vietnam War era. When the matter came before the U.S. Supreme Court, here’s what the judges concluded: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” The man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, had this to say about the WikiLeaks affair: “Powerful forces in America who thrive on secrecy are trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.”

And that’s just in Canadian newspapers.  All around the globe, today, pundits are reacting with astonishment to the notion that an anarchic, anonymous coalition of computer-savvy people – kids, most of them – could actually bring big corporations and big governments to their proverbial knees for what has been done to one of their own, Julian Assange.

They shouldn’t be surprised.

That last quoted passage, above, is by my friend and Sun colleague Michael Harris, who always gets it.  As Michael says, you’re way too late, governments and corporations.  You can’t control the Internet, as much as you would now desperately like to.  It is now, truly, a World Wide Web, and the people who generate most of its content are real people.  And they’re real people who enjoy, quite frankly, seeing powerful interests being taught a painful lesson.

It all mirrors what is taking place in democracy everywhere – and we’ve certainly seen it Canada, in 2010, and particularly in municipal races in places like Toronto and Calgary.  There is a surging anti-establishment mood gripping lots and lots of people.  It isn’t ideological, and it isn’t partisan: it’s an equal-opportunity anger movement, and it’s preoccupied with smacking around whomever happens to be wielding power.

You see it whenever a Barefoot Bandit, or his equivalent, is at work: people cheer for him, because they secretly (and not-so-secretly) love to see powerful forces get embarrassed by someone who isn’t very powerful at all.  People love the underdog.  In 2010, they love underdogs a lot.

Getting big companies like PayPal and Amazon and Visa to hit WikiLeaks in the pocketbook is as idiotic as it is predictable.  So, too, threatening Assange with untold prosecutions on trumped-up charges – and even now prosecuting him in a case that looks, to many of us, highly coincidental and therefore suspect.  To me, what I see in the papers this morning are the institutions that people truly hate these days – banks, and huge corporations, and bellicose governments – doing what they always do: reacting stupidly, corporately, and way too late. They should all send a bunch of “secret” cables to each other about their plans. They do that a lot, apparently.

I tried to think of a metaphor that fits, to make my point.  I settled on a fight between a big, slow, dumb dinosaur – being besieged by an army of fast, smart, tiny mammals with really sharp teeth.

And we all know what happened to those big, slow and dumb dinosaurs, don’t we?


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    Kevin says:

    You’re right more often than not, and this time you’re right again. But I think we should be focussing more on the guy who walked out the door with all that information and gave it to WikiLeaks. As Bruce Schneier says (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/12/wikileaks_1.html) “Secrets are only as secure as the least trusted person who knows them”. You can have the securest computer system possible, but the human element is one factor you can’t fully control.

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      Namesake says:

      Re: “we should be focussing more on the guy who walked out the door with all that info…”

      um, I think that misses the point, too, which is the way all those 25,000 supposedly sensitive doc’s were stored &/or could be accessed & downloaded so easily together in a single dump by a single person (whoever s/he is), with only the clearance level that 3 MILLION Americans have.

      Focussing on what messed up that Private who allegedly leaked it now is just more post facto locking the wrong barn.

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    Rick T. says:

    Go after the leak, not the leaky. Exposing Government documents is a breech of national security and the ones responsible should be charged with espionage. WikiLeaks passed it on to the press, which should bring to light how vulnerable the security systems are to leaks and hackers.

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      smelter rat says:

      Oh please. Governments the world over stamp “confidential” or “secret” on everything including the lunch menu in the building cafeteria. Breech of national security my ass.

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        Namesake says:

        speaking of Ass…partame, that’s kinda what’s happened here:

        the widespread rise of artificial secreters has led to Leaky Grunt Syndrome.

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    j. coates says:

    Wiki-man is the Daniel Ellsberg of this generation. He’s a bloody hero.

    Even President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex and he was a war-time, five-star general.

    Why does every generation get another Vietnam?

    At least my father’s generation fought a necessary war. Most of them knew what they were fighting against.

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    moose says:

    Some “pundits” see these leaks making the world less safe. Tell that to the Iraqis where
    hundreds of thousands of people were killed by an invasion which,who knows,might have been
    avoided if the press wasn’t just a spokesperson for the “Christian”invaders.Or tell that to the
    Vietnamese or the Afghans.To say that the perpetrator of these leaks was out to just enjoy
    embarrassing the powerful trivializes the importance of this act.
    For a better presentation than I can give read John Pilger in today’s GUARDIAN.

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    mississaugapeter says:

    The best Wikileaks coverage:


    The Canadian media is finally showing some attention to the “Story of the Year”. It has already caused numerous resignations around the world and even forced a prime minister (Croatian) to disappear in the middle of the night…

    There are over 250,000 cables+, and only a trickle are being released daily. I suspect that the powers at be can’t decide if: 1. they should knock off Assange so everything gets released at once; or 2. try to deal with the daily revelations (which could continue for months) as they occur. I suspect soon they will choose 1.

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      Dave says:

      Assange is no dummy – there is no doubt in my mind that he has multiple layers of safeguards set up to protect himself and ensure that the information sees the light of day no matter what happens to him.

      Here’s a story from August that details a mysterious encrypted file that was posted in the wikileaks site: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/08/02/wikileaks_insurance/

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        The Doctor says:

        It’s quite clear that “knocking off” Assange would accomplish squat. I think the evil men in black top hats and curly pencil-thin moustaches in the CIA even figured that out some time ago.

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          MississaugaPeter says:

          I disagree.

          If you have followed this thing from the start you realize that the trickle is causing more grief than if one big gush was to occur. And no one yet has disproved any of the valid leaks. There are more than a few juicy details yet.

          I suspect there will be some attempt to make a deal with him while he is in jail, and if he does not agree, he becomes the Internet’s first true legend.

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    Sean Cummings says:

    If Frank Capra were alive, he’d have a field day making a movie about this.

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      Frank says:


      About a selfish narcissist with a persecution complex who sleeps with supporters of his organization, and leaves the actual soldier who risked the leak (Bradley Manning) to rot in jail?

      Haven’t laughed this hard in a while.

      (There’s a better suggestion as to who should lens such a propaganda film, but any Nuremberg Rally reference would probably get moderated out).

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    Dave says:

    This all started when Richard II allowed those Lollards to go too far in translating the Bible from Latin into the vernacular so that lay people could read it for themselves without the interpretations by the 1st Estate. Those Oxford students, with Lollard sympathies went to Prague in the student exchange ( and Prague students came to Oxford). Next thing you know, – John Hus, – and it’s been downhill ever since.
    Of course, the Lollards were paid with harsh justice for what they were doing. (I am not sure whether or not they were charged with condom negligence. I think it was something else. )

    There might be a generation thing here. Those federal party polls yesterday suggested real differences between young people’s preferences and older people’s preferences.
    Younger people also seem to have a different attitude toward info availability. I am often amazed at what younger people put out on the net, (I am constantly after my Grandkids about facebook). The younger generation seems to have a quite different take on what info should be open and available. The older people, representing older institutions that they use to wield power, seem to feel betrayed by this flow of information.

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      The Doctor says:

      A lot of young people have this bizarro attitude that, for some reason, while engaging in a criminal activity (e.g., rape, theft, espionage) in the non-cyber world is, umm criminal, doing the same thing over the internet is not. Examples abound. There were those kids who posted a gang-rape on the net recently and seemed rather dumbfounded at the suggestion that there was anything wrong or unusual about this. Young hackers commit industrial espionage over the internet and then when they’re arrested they act like they’re the victims — yet they probably would never dream of physically breaking into an office building and stealing confidential documents.

      I admired what Daniel Ellsberg did when he did it, but the analogies and comparisons to Ellsberg are far from exact in this case. Ellsberg had a much narrower agenda than Assange — Ellsberg was not, and is not, an anarchist. Those who champion Assange really need to ask themselves some hard questions about the consequences of adopting essentially an anarchist position. E.g., does that mean you have no problem with everyone on the planet finding out your credit card number, PIN # and security code? Because that is the logical endpoint of Assange and his followers’ position — absolute, unbridled freedom on the internet. Be careful what you wish for.

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        Dave says:

        Your thoughts on ‘anarchism’ are what a lot of us are wondering about. You mention the gang rape here in BC, and the youngsters putting it online without thinking that they were doing wrong. It certainly hurt the family and the kid who was victim. I wonder, though, if the online images did not go a long way to nailing at least some of the perps. As for industrial sabotage, I lived for decades in the oil patch and with forestry. I am not sure how cyber attacks stacks up against some of the things I have seen industry do in their noncomputer operations. Sometimes seems as if anarchy might be the special perogative of corporate citizens.

        I remember Ellsberg being called various things during the whole Vietnam conflict. ‘Anarchist’ might have been used. It had the same pejorative connotationthen that many assign to it today. You are right,also, about personal human privacy concerns. I am not sure whether they are as important, or less important than the privacy of corporations, governments and assorted big organizations.

        But here does seem to be the threat of some changes in who has power, and who has less power with this technology’s capabilities.

        Gotta go!!!

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          The Doctor says:

          I should clarify that I don’t mean to use “anarchist” or “anarchism” in an insulting or pejorative sense. I am not an anarchist (obviously) and I disagree with it as an animating political philosophy, but I’m certainly aware that there’s a thoughtful academic literature written on the topic and that some anarchists have a well-thought out belief system. I can respect that while still thinking that as a philosophy it is IMP flawed and ultimately unworkable and impractical (like so many political philosophies). I think this specific case, when you start spinning out its ramifications and consequences, illustrates just that.

          It might be, though, that Assange & Co. have done us a huge favour, not necessarily from the content of the leaks, but rather by throwing into sharp relief this issue that has been lurking ever since the internet came into existence — who owns cyberspace, to what extent does the Rule of Law extend through cyberspace, and what are, and should be, the limits of personal freedom in cyberspace? I’m glad that we are collectively having this discussion, because we need to have it.

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        smelter rat says:

        Nonsense. Have you read anything about this issue? Assange has been convicted of squat. People like you who have already found him guilty of every crime that comes to your tiny unthinking minds are delusional.

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          The Doctor says:

          I don’t see how what I posted hinges on whether Assange has been convicted of anything or not. I didn’t say or imply that he had been convicted, and I’m well aware of the fact that he has not been convicted at this point — notwithstanding my tiny unthinking mind.

          On the other hand, he has freely and proudly admitted to (among other things) receiving and publishing stolen government and corporate/private data and assiduously encouraging other people to steal such data and to provide it to Wikileaks for public dissemination. Whether that will get him charged or convicted of espionage or similar laws remains to be seen.

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            Stewart says:

            How is what Assange is doing any different from what the NYT, the Guardian and Der Spiegel doing? Manning stole the cables, Assange did not. If Assange is guilty of anything then so are those three news organizations, are you calling for thier prosecution as well? Or is what they are doing Ok because they are big corporations and not one man leading a small organization.

            If not then aren’t you being a hypocrite?

            You sound like quite the Authoritarian, am I wrong?

            Who do you think should be given the right to “control” the internet? One of the corrupt Western governments currently in place or perhaps a jolly coalition of them all? That’d be Greeeeeat.

            IMO The internet is fine just the way it is….as one of the last true free speech/media zones in the world.

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    Jeff P says:

    Wait wait wait…….

    Dinosaurs and fast smart tiny mammals with really sharp teeth? You’re not suggesting that humans beat up the dinosaurs are you? Because if you are don’t you owe Stock Day an apology for 2000?


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      Warren says:


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        Namesake says:

        “Wooly mammoth” is what you meant to say.

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    allegra fortissima says:

    “There is a saying ‘pick your battles.’ Well, Internet giants Amazon and Paypal have clearly decided not to join the fight for WikiLeaks. They are avoiding conflict and have thrown out the activists by pointing to their points and conditions. They have the right to do so. Companies should be allowed to be cowards, if the risk seems too high for them.

    That risk could be a general threat from the US political establishment – or the fury of US customers, who regard WikiLeaks as a platform for state treason. Such rage could hit the company a lot harder than the revolt by those activists now calling for a boycott of Amazon and PayPal.

    Yet, these calls for a boycott should be welcomed. They could show the companies that the situation is actually the exact opposite to what they have assumed: that perhaps they have been wrong in their appraisal of the reaction to WikiLeaks and have actually annoyed more customers than expected with the block. Then perhaps the next time they will do things differently.

    What is really of concern is how quickly the companies made these decisions. Their way of dealing with controversies can only harm the internet, regardless of what one’s stance is on WikiLeaks. These positions are so contrary – treason vs. serving the public good – and the contentious issue is so fundamental – what can citizens publish? – that it should be a question for the courts.

    At the moment it is doubtful that it will get that far – not just because the Internet giants are too cowardly to put the US government’s desire for a lawsuit against WikiLeaks to the test.

    But WikiLeaks activists themselves are also avoiding a legal confrontation. Instead of suing Amazon they are simply putting the data on a different server. The move demonstrates pragmatism. But in the long term it would be more use to the Internet in the US were the issue brought before the courts – to clarify if Amazon can simply delete a customer’s account.

    The question in the US is whether the constitution gives protection to the controversial WikiLeaks publications. It is to be hoped that a court will clarify this issue with relation to the WikiLeaks dispute, instead of the current situation where companies are making these decisions based on their expectations pf public opinion and the potential for conflict with politicians.” (Spiegel Online, 12/10/2010)

    Sounds like a modern “Kulturkampf” to me. What do the jurists here think – would it make sense to let a court decide?

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    Michael S says:

    Just wait. The script kiddies aren’t even warmed up yet.

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    The Doctor says:

    I find it rather ironic for WK to be making a post today that appears to be supporting essentially a pro-anarchist position vis a vis the internet. As though the rule of law has no place in cyberspace.

    Yet elsewhere, WK has been quite clear (in all those libel and slander actions, and related posts) that there are, and should be, clear legal limits on what people can say and do online.

    I wish WK would clarify his position on this. Does WK really think that the internet should be some wonderfully anarchic, free-fire zone, and Assange and his followers clearly assert? Or should there be limits, and if so, what are they?

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      Warren says:

      I’m saying they’re too late.

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        The Doctor says:

        Well, Warren, I think that’s only the beginning of the discussion. I agree with you that there are some “old models” that some of these governments, corporations and institutions have been clinging to that are going to have to change. But I definitely do not think that as a result of that, we are going to end up with some anarchist uptopia such as Assange and his internet groupies envision.

        Just to focus on one tiny aspect: security clearances. As a result of what Bradley Manning did, the obvious most logical result will be that the US government, and many other corporations and institutions, are going to take a very serious look at security clearances, internet security and the like. This whole thing is going to be yet another boon for cyber-security and cyber-espionage experts and consultants. But again, what will a likely result of that be? A more “free and open” internet, with sensitive information flying around like so many bits of spam? I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

        I agree with you WK that this whole Wikileaks thing has opened our eyes to a whole new set of possibilities, and that we may be seeing a battle for valuable turf, such as we haven’t seen since the American frontier was fought over, or the Europeans first discovered the new world. There’s a lot at stake, obviously. As far as who’s going to win — and, related to that, who’s going to win the battle for public opinion — I keep coming back to the fact that Assange is an anarchist, plain and simple, and most people out there are not. And remember, Warren, the barefoot bandit, for all his folk-hero popularity, ended up . . . in jail, where he currently sits.

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          Frank says:

          Actually, Assange is in no way an anarchist. Wikileaks in fact appears to be a classic cult of personality, with Assange in the “Jim Jones” spot. Just do a Google News on OpenLeaks that was launched today by disgruntled ex-cult members. One of them actually referred to Assange as a “slave trader”.

          But are these Anonymous cyberattacks the work of Anarchists? Ix-nay to that too. It’s come out that a large part of the DDoS attacks were the work of classic malware botnets, the kind mafia-connected Russian spammers use.

          Even the original message board that organized the attacks, 4chan, is disreputable. Google that too. You will find out it is one of the vilest places on the internet, homophobic, racist and has an ongoing problem with people posting child pornography (according to a recent FBI probe). Lauding 4chan as anarchists, is like saying the KKK is a fraternal organization (note: remove that KKK reference if it’s too inflamatory, mod).

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            Frank says:

            Here’s a link to information on the criminal involvement in the DDoS vs PayPal, Visa et al.


            It looks the MSM is once again guilty of seriously lazy internet journalism vis a vis Wikileaks

            This DDoS was in no way a “mass uprising”. The “voluntary” botnet download was in fact a PR stunt to give the DDoS a media-friendly face. The backbone of the DDoS (say 90%) was criminal botnet operators who co-operated for a few hours by turning the zombie computers under their command against the targets.

            No Robin Hoods here, just a bunch of mafia goons.

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            Frank says:

            Sorry, the 90% criminal botnet participation actually comes from this article at Yahoo:


            A security consultant observed 3k voluntary bots during the attack, and 30k criminal bots.

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            Frank says:

            Woops, actually this one for criminal botnet figures:


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          hugger says:

          Well Doc, you certainly have an inclination toward exaggeration. If you toned it down some, your main points might seem a touch more convincing.

          You are quite likely correct in assuming this will create boom times for security interests, but your er, liberal use of terms such as anarchist and references to gang rapes make you come off similarly to a number of other CPC spokespersons.

          Is that you Ezra??

          There is another part of the equation you didn’t include and that is the value of an open internet. That is a very large part of it’s attraction and what makes it so ripe for commercial exploitation. Throttling back it’s openness will result in less interest and participation and likely a shrinking market.

          Something from your post at 4:28 I didn’t grasp is how rape can be committed over the internet? As obviously distasteful as it was for those who posted that to do it, to my knowledge it isn’t something that happens often and is clearly indicative of the mentality of those who did it.

          Lastly, your apparent outrage is a little misdirected. Shouldn’t you be more angry with those who are guilty of the transgressions they now seem so intent on hiding rather than those who exposed them? Remember too, the cyber attacks began against the wiki site first, so let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

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          Namesake says:

          What’s your basis for insisting that Assange is essentially an “anarchist,” anyway — apart from the widely dessiminated proclamation of the red-faced US State Dep’t that he is, that is?

          Have you read or heard his own explanation for what he’s about, as in his Time Mag. interview last week?

          An anarchist, as I understand it, is someone who professes to want, or does something in service of producing, a ‘Hobbsesian state of nature’- type scenario: free of any government, ruler, or laws.

          But the target of Assange’s leaks isn’t any & all govt’s: only those gov’ts AND org’s (big banks are next) that he’s deemed to have acted UNJUSTLY.

          And the purpose of the leaks is either to get the public &/or judicial system to force them to clean up their act and act more justly, or to at least slow them down (by making their communications & cooperation with complicit gov’ts) to make them less effective in doing things like waging unjust wars in Iraq.

          And, far from condemning the very idea of gov’t’s & laws, he indicates he has a lot of respect for the original form of the US gov’t & its legal system — and the legal systems of all the countries involved in clearing his org. from the legal challenges against it.

          He also explains in this & other interviews how his org. vets & verifies (AND redacts the most potentially harmful to innocent individuals) info. before releasing it; and how he tried to let the State Dep’t participate in the latter (which refused); and also

          – how he’s actually found that the Wild West internet denizens have been pretty useless when it comes to helping process the information up front (we’re too ill-informed & lazy, & just wanna be the commentariat rather than do any real journalism ourselves), so he’s had to rely on the traditional media to get it out there.

          In other words, he DOES come off a lot more like a traditional “Truth to Power” member of the Fourth Estate than some wild-eyed anarchist.


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            Stewart says:

            Spot on Namesake.

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