Monday, February 13, 2012

Wikileaks to go mobile (Not an app)

The Sealand platform that was home to the data haven HavenCo.
The infamous site Wikileaks is looking to move its operations to a boat in international waters! Holy shades of Snow Crash! The boat idea is being widely reported by several credible news organizations and repeated amongst social media network members today. The earliest incarnation of the story I can find puts Fox News as patient zero for this information spread.

I want to go on record with my opinion right now: I don’t believe it. To me buying a ship sounds more like a Hollywood plot than a anti-censorship strategy by a group of competent hackers for three reasons: it was an unnamed source, lawlessness of the open sea is a double edge sword, and nobody is that bad at disaster recovery planning.

Bad Journalism and Worst Ideas
My boss, Rob, often writes about FUD and security. Rob’s original Occupy Wall Street article is a shining example of his almost inhuman objectivity. After mentioning the possibility of Wikileaks going nautical he told me he didn’t believe it. The story is too sensational is his argument. Rob’s staunch anti-ship stance caused me to reread the stories. With the fresh eyes evaluating the story I have to agree with him. Citing unknown sources is shoddy journalism. Without sources this article is no better than schoolgirl gossip. Instead of Johnny likes Suzie we get Julian is fond of maritime law.

The premise of the boat strategy seems to rest on the belief that in international waters (about 12 miles off the coast of a country) Wikileaks avoids being subject to the laws of a target’s country. This belief is a fallacy. The “international waters immunity” myth is baffling to me. The myth seems to spring to life solely from people repeating it so often that it is assumed to be true. You cannot do what ever you want in international waters and get away with it.  Since I am not a lawyer I will not engage in an ad-nauseam discussion of the semantics of law.

Being in international waters doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want; just what you care to defend against. This makes the 70% of the earth covered in water a briny version of prohibition era America: its legal if you can bribe or shoot your way out. If a backer has enough money to buy a boat large enough for use by Wikileaks then the fallacy of unlimited freedom would not come as a shock. I didn't see any articles discussing this point.

I can be a Commando or Just Hire Some
A sample of training I could use to take over a sea bound Wikileaks
Once out in international waters the same freedom that the leakers seek could actually hurt them. After thinking about Wikileaks operating in international waters with a place like Sealand I thought about the easy access to military grade training that a few years ago was only for special forces high-speed teir-1 types. Take a look at this class from the firearms and training company, Magpul.

In this class I will learn how to employ a maritime assault force, non-compliant/opposed boarding, and hook and climb techniques. That’s all I need to board a craft and take the Wikileaks information by force. 

Tagline for popular professional solider job website,
If I don’t want to take training the draw down of US forces Afghanistan and end of operations in Iraq means that there is a large number of paramilitary types that are available for hire. While jaunting off the deep blue sea sounds like a good idea at first the security concerns cannot be overlooked; you can face lawyers on land or mercenaries on the sea. Since one of the goals of Wikileaks was to stop wars it doesn’t seem that they would be very good at repelling a boarding party.

The example of mercenaries is reductio ad absurdum (thanks to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory for adding that phrase to my vocabulary) on my part. The point is that you are trading one set of problems for a different set that Wikileaks is incapable of handling.

No Nines of Up-time, really
Lastly I just don’t think that a Wikileaks boat makes sense from a network availability standpoint. The boat would have to use a satellite link or some sort of line of sight connection for Internet connectivity. Both can be jammed. After Wikileaks spent time to have their site mirrored by supporters there is no sense in a move that would make silencing them a arms race of who has a bigger radio.

In order to be effective Wikileaks would need an armada, not a ship. Armadas are costly these days. The initial hardware costs are just the start of the problem the daily operations would exhaust the would-be digital pirates donation based budget instantly.

The biggest problem of Internet connectivity is where it terminates. What ever government is at the other end of the internet connection can disable it at any point and leave Wikileaks in no better shape than if they were in a more forgiving hosting location. In IT speak why would they inherit all this new risk to their new operations with very little reward.

Why it could Work
I will admit there is a scenario that would make the reports of a SS Leaker plausible: Bit Torrent. If the ship remained stealthy and only needed Internet connectivity to start the seeding of a new torrent based release there is some technical validity to the idea. The electronic face of the organization, the web servers and such, could be hosted anywhere as long as they weren’t holding any secrets. This would be like the Irish Republican Army splitting into public and guerrilla warfare halves so they could perform attacks then do press releases about it.

End Transmission
I am sure this idea was thought up in a chat room as a “what if…” scenario then was repeated enough until a reporter got hold of it. Set aside the coolness factor of being mistaken for a Bond villain and the purposed move to a ship really doesn’t make any sense for Wikileaks. They would be trading one type of trouble for another and would still need a way to provide reliable network connectivity. I don’t think risking Davey Jones’ locker is the answer, I think different leaders are. Since the Wikileaks fervor seems to have died down I guess any publicity will help the cause since starting a political party really hasn’t done Pirate Bay any good.

These are just my ideas; I have no insider knowledge on the alleged hoisting of anchor for Wikileaks. 

[This was originally written on February 1st when the story broke, I just took two weeks getting it on the site. As far as I know aside from the initial story there hasn't been any additional information since I wrote this.] 


Unknown said...

Thank You

The Given information is very effective
I will keep updated with the same

Daniel Löfquist said...

Good article. I just have to point out one annoying fallacy. The Pirate Bay never started a political party. I suppose you're thinking of the Swedish Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) but their formation in 2006 has no real connection to TPB.