Thursday, December 9, 2010

WikiLeaks Does Not Yield

All hell has broken loose over the past couple of days as WikiLeaks, the non-profit media website whose sole mission is to release confidential government documents into the public domain. Criticism has been back and forth, one side claiming freedom of speech, the other pointing out how releasing confidential government documents effectively puts lives in danger. But the real situation now is that of WikiLeaks and supporters vs. commercial corporations. So far MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, and others have cut off WikiLeaks from using their services. What was the response? A massive and successful DDoS from WikiLeaks supporters that brought these websites, as well as the home pages of elected officials who have made statements against WikiLeaks, down to their knees.

Personally I do not condone what's going on over at WikiLeaks. I agree that there are times when freedom of speech must be expressed for the betterment of the people and society, but based on the context of the situation, I do not think this is what Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks has in mind. It has nothing to do with the actual content being released, but rather the apparent motives behind why the State Department wires were released. One source quotes Assange as explaining how he didn't send the confidential documents to the New York Times because he did not like how they were covering his organization and recent legal troubles. So you're telling me a guy who puts American lives in danger in the name of free speech is going to attempt to punish a newspaper for using their free speech against him. Assange does not care about free speech or anything related to the subject; he just believes that every government is corrupt, and is using these confidential wires to antagonize companies and government into what seems to be ensuing anarchy.

However, WikiLeaks is not the only party in the wrong here. MasterCard, Visa, and other companies should not be getting their feet wet in politics by banning WikiLeaks from their services. They can feed me all the bullshit they want on how WikiLeaks violates their Terms of Services, but what exactly has WikiLeaks done wrong that deserves complete expulsion from such basic commercial services as receiving donations? Sure they have distributed confidential government documents, but the government itself has yet to claim that this act is definitely illegal. In fact, the only legal trouble Assange has run into is an alleged sex crimes case, which is completely unrelated to his current endeavors. MasterCard and Visa are just trying to shield themselves from criticism from both WikiLeaks opposition and the United States government, but suspending WikiLeaks from their services without so much as a concrete reason (ToS is not a concrete reason) is just a sign that the political pressure is too much for them. People have expressed willingness to donate to WikiLeaks, and MasterCard and Visa are taking sides by not letting this happen.

But the most recent development to all of this has been Operation Payback. A group of crackers who go under the name Anonymous launched DDoS attacks on many major websites that have shown opposition to WikiLeaks. The attack was organized through LOIC, or Low Orbit Ion Cannon. The application was written in C# and was originally developed as a stress test to see if a network could handle a massive flow of TCP packets. However, it was quickly adapted for malicious purposes and, in this case, brought down the websites of Visa, MasterCard, Sarah Palin, and others.

Similar attacks have been used before by the Anonymous community against other controversial issues, so I am not surprised that something like this triggered such a massive attack. However, it seems like the crackers are the only people who have actually done something illegal, and their involvement in this chiefly political battle just amplifies a situation that does not need to be made larger. WikiLeaks is not an Internet problem, it is a government problem. Using DDoS to bring down Visa's website is going to have little bearing on their decision to reinstate service for WikiLeaks. At the end of the day, this entire debacle has grown way out of proportion, and I would not be surprised if by tomorrow Twitter, who has recently suspended Operation Payback's account, is also under attack. We'll just have to wait and see.

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