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WikiLeaks accused of tapping P2P for secret docs

Gov probes claims of 21st Century scavenger hunt

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As much as half of the secret documents posted by WikiLeaks may have been siphoned from peer-to-peer users who incorrectly configured their file-sharing software, according to evidence gathered by a security firm.

Tiversa, a Pennsylvania company that in 2009 uncovered confidential blueprints of the US President's Marine One helicopter being traded over P2P networks, told Bloomberg News the evidence suggests that WikiLeaks volunteers actively sought out confidential documents, despite claims by the whistle-blower website that it doesn't know who provides it with the information it gets.

“There are not that many whistleblowers in the world to get you millions of documents,” Tiversa chief executive Robert Boback told Bloomberg. “However, if you are getting them yourselves, that information is out there and available.”

The company has turned the evidence over to government officials investigating WikiLeaks, Boback told the news service. An attorney for WikiLeaks called the claim “completely false in every regard.”

Among the findings leading to Tiversa's claim:

  • Over a stretch of 60 minutes on February 7, 2009, four computers with Swedish IP addresses issued 413 searches over LimeWire and Kazaa for government documents. The searches unearthed a survey of the Pentagon's Pacific Missile Range Facility stored on a computer in Hawaii. A little more than two months later, the document was renamed and posted to WikiLeaks. The post said the sensitive information “was first publicly revealed by WikiLeaks working with our source.”
  • In late 2009, WikiLeaks published a spreadsheet detailing potential terrorist targets in California's Fresno County. The document, which noted locations of caches of bomb-grade fertilizers and other potentially vulnerable sites, was inadvertently indexed on P2P networks by a California state employee in August, 2008, more than a year before the secret-spilling site posted it.
  • Also in 2009, WikiLeaks published Army intelligence documents that reported on the movements of Taliban leaders and other confidential details. Those documents were exposed on P2P networks as early as September of 2008, eight months earlier.
  • The Pentagon's 58-page Afghanistan Order of Battle was available on P2P networks in January 2009. It was posted to WikiLeaks four months later

It's not the first time WikiLeaks has been accused of trawling public networks for the confidential material it posts. Last Year, The New Yorker reported that WikiLeaks obtained “millions of secret transmissions” that passed over the Tor anonymizing network. WikiLeaks vehemently denied the claim, but so far no correction has been issued by the magazine.

Bloomberg said the information scavenging by WikiLeaks, if true, “would contradict its stated mission as a facilitator of leaked material by insiders whose identities, [founder Julian] Assange has said the group takes measures not to know.

But it seems just as plausible that someone not affiliated with WikiLeaks performed the P2P searches and anonymously provided the resulting documents to WikiLeaks. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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