How Political Pundits Get Confused When They Don't Understand That Wikileaks Is Distributed

from the good-luck-there dept

We’ve mentioned Marc Thiessen’s rather hilariously clueless position on Wikileaks a few times in the past. He’s the former Bush speech writer, who has advocated “shutting down” Wikileaks and was reasonably mocked for the cluelessness of that statement. He’s also advocated using the US military to hunt down Julian Assange. His latest is a response to those who mocked his idea of shutting down Wikileaks. He claims that he’s absolutely sure it’s possible. His reasoning? The whole Stuxnet worm thing:

Some say attacking WikiLeaks would be fruitless. Really? In the past year, the Iranian nuclear system has been crippled by a computer worm called “Stuxnet,” which has attacked Iran’s industrial systems and the personal computers of Iranian nuclear scientists. To this day, no one has traced the origin of the worm. Imagine the impact on WikiLeaks’s ability to distribute additional classified information if its systems were suddenly and mysteriously infected by a worm that would fry the computer of anyone who downloaded the documents. WikiLeaks would probably have very few future visitors to its Web site.

Ah, cluelessness in its pure, distilled form. This is why we noted a few weeks back how the political class doesn’t seem to understand the difference between centralized systems and distributed systems. It’s demonstrated simply in this one paragraph that seems to assume that Wikileaks is centralized around its website. Frankly, I don’t know if I’ve ever even gone to the Wikileaks website directly. The website is somewhat meaningless for what Wikileaks is doing.

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Comments on “How Political Pundits Get Confused When They Don't Understand That Wikileaks Is Distributed”

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55 Comments
Jon B. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I was curious what Mike was getting at since I haven’t actually been visiting Wikileaks or paying attention to the stuff on it.

So, I Googled “wikileaks” and clicked on the 3rd link down, which took me straight to the site by its IP address (screw DNS) and went to the “mirrors” page.

Holy shit. That’s a lot of mirrors. Try shutting them all down. Just try.

K says:

Re: Re:

Let me explain.

The DNS provider just stopped forwarding requests for the website to the proper IP. The IP still existed but unless you knew it, you couldn’t get to it.

Like this (very vaguely and missing some steps:
You ask for wikileaks.org in your browser
This request is forwarded around the net until the proper provider get wind of it and then replies that it knows where that host is actually located
Word get back to who you asked initially who clues in your browser to which IP to go to
Voila, webpage shows up.

If there is no DNS provider handling requests for whatever website, there is no way for anyone to know how to get to that IP (or which one is associated with that address) (unless it is cached from a previous visit)

If the hosting company drops the website (takes the IP offline) then no one can access the website at that particular ip. So they just change or activate a new IP (host) and associate it with the URL so that the DNS (whatever provider they can find to use) will return the new IP.

Distributed websites can be like hydras, you cut off one head and these other ones you didn’t know about pop up and take its place (assuming these other ‘copies’ exist)

thats how i understand it anyway, could be completly wrong :/

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Re:

The DNS hosting provider (e.g. EveryDNS) does not forward traffic to the target web site. It is a nameserver which resolves a URL (e.g. Wikileaks.org) to an IP address and returns that to your machine which, in turn, sends traffic addressed to the IP address of the real target. The real target is commonly on a domain hosting provider which provides space on a server for the target web site’s data. EveryDNS, which was the master authoritative nameserver for Wikileaks.org, decided to no longer resolve that URL. They can do this arbitrarily because they are a free service and thus there was no contract between them and Wikileaks. Once that happened, one could still go to wikileaks.org because there are caching nameservers (ISPs normally provide this) which will resolve the URL. However, that is temporary lasting a few minutes up to hours. After that, you will not be able to go to wikileaks.org but you can enter the IP address directly into your browser. Wikileaks has registered the wikileaks.org name and so also reserved a small block of IP addresses (213.251.145.96 – 213.251.145.111) these IP addresses had been on Amazon’s domain hosting service. After Amazon dumped them, wikileaks.org moved to OVH, a French hosting company. However, that range of IP addresses no longer works at the moment , so It seems that either OVH succumbed to political pressure or there is too much traffic, either naturally or a DDOS attack. Currently, the wikileaks web site is accessible via wikileaks.de (87.106.151.138), wikileaks.ch (46.59.1.2), or wikileaks.se (88.80.6.179). Oddly enough, I have read that wikileaks is using EveryDNS to resolve those 3 URLs.

anothermike says:

Re: Besides that

that’s just the ‘homepage’. that doesn’t count the thousands of copies of the documents themselves.
in the geocities days you could take down information by taking down its webpage because the site and the documents it hosted were not separated. these days front-end, mid-tier, and back-end are all separate systems. those three can be three separate entities from each other and separate from the entity leaking the documents. so it’s immediately a 4x rise in complexity to manage but also to attack. and then multiply that times the number of mirrors of any tier. raise that to the power of the streisand effect and suddenly trying quantum decryption in your head starts to look trivial compared to taking down embarrassing information.

Rich Kulawiec says:

This problem extends beyond computing

Clearly, there are an awful lot of people (in and out of government) who don’t understand distributed systems of any kind. One would think that given the recent lessons taught to the US (in Vietnam) and the USSR (in Afghanistan) over the past few decades that this would have slowly permeated the collective consciousness, but apparently remedial instruction is needed.

I wonder if anyone has told Thiessen that there are now over a thousand known Wikileaks mirrors and no doubt ten times that many being prepared in case that first thousand isn’t enough. And that’s just the HTTP mirrors; I think it’s reasonable to presume NNTP, SMTP, and P2P are being used as well. Probably even Sneakernet.

Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Isn't that illegal

I am pretty sure Jeff used a PC Laptop. You can’t write viruses on a Mac….

(Hee Hee).

Marc Thiessen has clearly watched too many movies. Yeah, this hugely complicated and sophisticated worm was able to do some directed damage to a particular bit of hardware. But the idea that it is a good idea to write a work that can infect a standard Web Server and cause damage to thousands of different computers (all with their own browser/os/hardware configurations) world wide to wipe out what are essentially text files….

Even if it could be done (which it can’t), putting that in the wild would be like handing the design and plans and components for software nuclear weapons to all comers whether they want them or not. The world wide software devastation would be vast and unlimited.

But luckily, software is just lots harder to write to do that kind of thing than people use education comes from movies could possibly understand.

Martin LaBelle (profile) says:

Re: Isn't that illegal

I should say it is illegal to intentionally install malicious code on a server you do not own.

Far more than illegal it is an act of war, and cannot be done without congressional approval.

Our country is slowly descending into Fascist Nationalism… Absolutely anything to ensure the safety of the people. To hell with safety, we all die someday… very few live free.

In the words of our fallen bastion of humor- George Carlin..
“Take a F-ing chance”

sehlat (profile) says:

Of course the political class wouldn't understand

Political power is, everywhere and everywhen, about centralization of control. “My gang great! Your gang dirt!” and so forth, from the god-kings of Egypt to the god-king wannabes of our own era.

It tends to be forgotten that the constitution of the United States was intended, in fact, to promote decentralization of political power. (Federalist Papers) The states were to be the centers of power, with the federal government more or less a central coordinating body for issues that affected them all, such as foreign policy and war. Over the years, that idea waned, with the Civil War and the passage of the 17th Amendment being key markers of its destruction.

Given that history, I ask, “Why would you *expect* them to understand?”

cc (profile) says:

I don’t see how that quote shows he doesn’t understand distributed systems and can’t grasp the impossibility of shutting down Wikileaks. It may be that he does fully understand both those things, but doesn’t want the average, ignorant citizen understanding as well.

If he manages to spread FUD about Wikileaks giving you viruses and convinces a lot of people that that’s how they CAN beat Wikileaks, he’s scored a victory in misinformation.

After all, misinformation wants to be free.

Andrew F (user link) says:

Re: Re:

An interesting corollary to that would be if the government started leaking “fake” cables. Or wrote some of malware that made small random changes to some of the less-secured wikileak files spread out there.

It’s hard to take it all down. But it’s relatively easy to introduce misinformation that decreases the authenticity of the originals. It’d probably be a lot of fun too. Start with relatively benign “mistakes” (e.g. a series of cables in which the Foreign Minister of Russia mis-spells his own name) and escalate it to the ridiculous (an experimental Spiderpig breeding program in Kamchatka).

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: Re: Re:

But it’s relatively easy to introduce misinformation that decreases the authenticity of the originals.

True, but: one of the problems with that is so many people would need to be informed “this is misinformation” that one of them would probably leak it. Or one of them wouldn’t be informed and would act on the misinformation. Or…

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: Re: Re:

But it’s relatively easy to introduce misinformation that decreases the authenticity of the originals.

True, but: one of the problems with that is so many people would need to be informed “this is misinformation” that one of them would probably leak it.

It think it’s rather more likely that steganographic techniques are in use to identify leak vectors.

Виртули& (profile) says:

Omigod, I love it how everyone wants to bring down Wikileaks. Let’s assume it really is possible e.g. using some very secret computing technologies to break the public key in just a few weeks and wipe all 20k (by then) official mirrors, and assume no unofficial suddenly appear, and…

…so what about that full cable collection that’s already in possession of no one knows how many Wikileaks insiders? Hey, should situation above really happen, any of you guys can feel free to just contact me and we’ll set up http://thissitehasnothingtodowithassangeorwikileaks.org in about 15 minutes! We’ll even change the logo!

Seriously, if someone got hold of *my* private chat logs, I’d be very, very nice and polite with that person. Because they already HAVE them. Not much you can do about it.

I don’t remember whether it was mentioned here on Techdirt, when half a year ago a guy managed to download almost whole Latvian state revenue service database and frightened officials for a few months. He was found though, eventually, and his HDDs confiscated, but he was alone. Wikileaks is not really the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You don’t need to wipe the mirrors, they will go away all by themselves. The children running them will graduate high school or university, and actually get a life. Heck, some of them might even discover girls (or boys if they prefer) at some point and realize that a life spent behind a keyboard being a warrior is fairly meaningless.

Wikileaks is the 4chan cause of the week. They will get over it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So meaningless that the U.S. government is trying very hard to “neutralize” one of those warriors you speak of, which by the way had even groupies, he may get more tail than you, is that something or what?

Now personally I just think you are upset because you can’t now just call people conspiracy theorists, tin foil hat people anymore, now they have proof and will shove it in your face every chance they get now and that is why you are trying to make fun of them.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

you can’t now just call people conspiracy theorists, tin foil hat people anymore

I don’t agree with the guy you’re responding to. However, just because there are conspiracies (everyone knew this already) doesn’t mean there aren’t nutters with tinfoil hats (figuratively of course). One conspiracy theory being true doesn’t affect the status of any others.

Phil (profile) says:

The clulessness here . .

The cluelessness here is how you turn a rant by someone about infecting wikileaks with viruses so that the people visiting wikileaks get their computers “fried” into a rant about pundits not having a clue about distributed vs. centralized systems.

Clue me in please and connect those particular dots.

Want to rant about something, rant about how clueless it is to think that viruses will “fry” the computer of anyone downloading the documents.

aldestrawk says:

mirror sites

My comment above just mentions 3 mirror sites which can be used when the wikileaks.org URL and it’s associated IP addresses are unavailable. At the moment there are 1289 mirror sites altogether. This doesn’t even include that 5 major international newspapers have full copies of the diplomatic cables. It is actually conceivable that a virus could be distributed via Wikileaks as it does update all the mirror sites. That’s a much bigger software job than Stuxnet though and I think it would have to be an inside job as well by some high level Wikileak traitor. Even then, the first indications of a virus would allow the distribution to be halted until the cables were freshly re-generated by Wikileaks and clean copies distributed to all the mirrors. Ultimately, really hard and very temporary. If it were only so easy as the movies.

Darryl says:

What lies ?

Mike you said (in your attached link).

It appears to not occur to Mr. Whiton that Wikileaks is whistleblowing, revealing the fact that our government (apparently during the time Whiton worked for them) flat-out lied.

Can you detail where and in what leaks has it been shown that the Government LIED ?

Just a few examples please..

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: What lies ?

AS in, the ‘We don’t condone illegal actions on foreign soil or influence other governments’.

They have pressured Sweden AND Russia in the name of American interest. They have allowed a paedophilic ritual to go on on the US taxpayer’s dime. They lobbied the UK for the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Al-Megrahi. They attempted to convince China to sever all ties with Pyongyang.

The US is also attempting to alter EU law via the ACTA treaty, which is being done in near-total cecrecy.

That enough for you? OR are you just going back under your bridge?

Freedom says:

Millions of holes...

I almost fell over when I heard this idea toss out there. I also couldn’t believe how people in the news making well into the 7 figures accepted it and truly showed how little they understand.

If you have one damn with one leak, sure you can plug it. If you have thousand of holes in every damn in the world with new random ones happening each second of the day – good luck.

For those that are paranoid of getting infected – just use a VM running a non-common OS and a non-popular browser. No one has unlimited resources and they can’t code a worm for every permutation. If you are really paranoid, make sure you do something similar for your home firewall. By the way, does anyone really think that boxes sold are retail can’t be bypassed by “officials”?

Freedom

dave (profile) says:

[if its systems were suddenly and mysteriously infected by a worm that would fry the computer of anyone who downloaded the documents]

“imagines if youses store was ta mysteriously catches on fires, dat would bees a shame.”

holy moley talk about mafia tactics! what the heck is this country coming to? is it really ok for people in that rarified sphere to publicly (not) threaten a private person or organization the same way mobs have traditionally run protection rackets?

the point isn’t if he understands or not. the point is he thinks it’s fine to go around “frying” peoples computers for downloading something from the internet!

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