On the 13th of this month Russia’s formerly known KGB (now Federal Security Bureau) was hacked and mocked. Almost 7.5 terabytes of data was taken by a group known as 0v1ru$ due to security weaknesses of Sytech, a FSB contractor.
Sytech had been employed to assist in a range of exploratory internet projects for the Kremlin, including establishment of a Russian Internet, social media ‘scraping’ and various others. The details of the projects, many of which were top secret, were then public disseminated via Digital Revolution, a much larger hacking group, who subsequently divulged the intelligence to numerous media outlets.
There are a few takeaways from the story. For major government institutions the employment of contractors represents a consistent security risk. Three days ago, an NSA contractor was jailed for 9 years for stealing documents. In May, a surveillance contractor for the US Customs and Border Protection was breached & hackers accessed photos and license plate details of more than 100,000 people. Government’s Employing third parties to assist or operate in projects contingent upon large volumes of confidential data, rely on the contractor’s security standards to match their own.
But what is absolutely clear, is that Governments and state agencies have demonstrated a consistent inability to keep their own data secure, despite an almost puritanical devotion to chastising those who circulate the leaked the material. Be it from Whistle blowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or via back room corporate data deals like the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica affair, it appears fairly clear that no organisation can be trusted to safeguard user data.
These are of course only the data breaches we’re aware of, it’s likely hacks have occurred orders of magnitude larger than what’s reported. If Governments and corporations were prepared to safeguard military atrocities, data power broking and invasive cyber technology, then they certainly minimise the press coverage of it.
What it also means is that globally, unbeknownst to us, hostile state and private actors possess our own sensitive personal data. However, bottom-dwellers of the information food chain, the demos, are forever unaware of the true complexion of allied military intervention overseas (Iraq), Government spying programmes (NSA), rigging democratic primaries (DNC), underage sexual abuse in the UN, and many other secret and often immoral activities.
Despite often footing the bill for organisations directly involved and being subject illegal surveillance among a host of other calamities, the ordinary citizen comes last. We are the unknowing valet du pouvoir.
This brings us to Assange. Julian brings an iota of balance to this horrifically skewed equation and receives only calumny from the press. Ironically, by publishing documents, he has illuminated some of the very darkest spots in geopolitics and commerce, and fairly tattered reputations of corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle.
In defence of Assange, if anything is obvious, it’s that everyone else already has the data. Everyone else is leveraging knowledge and hacked or leaked information behind the scenes to gain some kind of pecuniary of strategic benefit. Australians, American’s and citizens in general are almost always the last people to know who actually has their information.
Whether you believe Assange’s leaks demonstrate the apogees of immorality and systemic institutional debauchery or not, if the information is of any value at all it’s worth less in the hands of a hostile actor if the people already know. It’s far more difficult to leverage the Iraq War Logs if American citizens are across the helicopter carnage.
It’s obvious that voters can make a more informed choice if they’re aware that the DNC had rigged a primary against Bernie Sanders, but it’s critically important that this information can’t be used as bargaining chips in arms deals and military intervention discussions.
Assange should be venerated for his role in making each and every one of us more involved, even indirectly, in the decisions at the highest levels. It’s much harder to convince the American public to prosecute regime change wars because of the Iraq war logs. The American public now view the CIA and NSA as far more likely to be engaging in privacy-breaching clandestine operations as a consequence of Wikileaks.
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how important Assange has been in shaping discourse about data & power, but even if you think that what #Assange released isn’t particularly interesting or of great importance, we’re all in a much better position knowing the powerful do. Otherwise we’re being held at gunpoint in the dark.