One of the biggest questions of this century, and probably the rest of it as well, is that of privacy and security online. No other person has raised the importance of this question more than Julian Assange, the founder, and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. Since its start in 2006, the whistleblowing project has leaked sensitive operating documents from Scientology, revealed ties between Hollywood and political circles, released classified footage of US troops firing from Apache helicopters collaterally killing many civilians as they hunted terrorists, and arguably altered the outcome of the US presidential elections in 2016 with leaks from the Democratic National Committee. That’s just a short list. Even worse for those who have been the target of WikiLeaks, it has proven to be trustworthy: none of the leaks have ever proven to be false.
Naturally, WikiLeaks’ actions have both its supporters and opponents. Some cry foul on the behalf of national security, others say that it’s not the job of WikiLeaks to publish such information. On a broader scale, people also question the lack of privacy that WikiLeaks represents when it releases private emails, regardless of what it contains. Though one thing to understand about WikiLeaks is that no matter whether you support or oppose the release of sensitive information it is, by definition, the biggest attacker of privacy.
The destroyer and savior
The promise of source anonymity means that WikiLeaks can offer a whistleblowing platform for people from all walks of life with a range of motives and intentions. It can come from a single hacker who has an axe to grind with a public or political figure or financial institution, whistleblowers who think their corporation or government agency has become corrupt, or even state sponsored actors. The truth is, in many cases we just don’t know.
Essentially, the same entity that wants to destroy your privacy by undermining cybersecurity also wants to be your savior from corruption. This is made clear by a statement on its website, “WikiLeaks will accept restricted or censored material of political, ethical, diplomatic or historical significance.” Fortunately, this excludes the average Joe from becoming a target of a Wikileaks. Though any relief that comes from that should be weighted against what that statement does say and the potential instability of privacy it poses. If closely regarded state secrets can be revealed to the masses, then what does that say about the security your private information.
In fact, when you look at it from this standpoint the problem that WikiLeaks poses seems overwhelming. If governments with millions or billions of dollars at their disposal can’t protect their information, then how can someone who doesn’t have nearly that much money protect themselves? This is the situation we find ourselves currently. The internet is a modern example of the wild west. A virtual, lawless community where enforcement of morality is difficult and the most cunning are rewarded. To be clear, there are laws regarding the internet, the problem is every country has laws and the internet exists without borders. It’s not uncommon for laws between two countries to be entirely contradicting. So who’s penal code do we adhere to when we’re online. Even harder, how do we enforce those laws- especially if we can’t even identify them? It’s no secret that attribution is one of the toughest challenges when it comes to cybersecurity. It takes a team of highly trained people working countless hours to even have a shot at determining who launched a cybersecurity attack. In most cases, blame can never be definitively placed.
If you know nothing else about the internet you should know that there is no privacy online. It’s best to assume that anything you put online can be accessed by someone with the will and technical skills. The highly publicized reports that WikiLeaks is famous for only brings this to the spotlight.