A massive release from WikiLeaks of the entire unredacted database of U.S. diplomatic cables has brought renewed vigor to those calling for the government to take decisive cyber-action against what some have described as a terrorist organization.
“The latest release of stolen American secrets by the organization WikiLeaks once again proves that they are a terrorist operation that puts the lives of Americans and our allies at risk,” U.S. Rep Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said in a statement in response to the latest leak.
“It is long past time for the Obama administration to take decisive action to shut this criminal operation down and to bring those who steal and release America’s secrets and put our allies at risk to justice,” Miller continued.
But is that even possible?
Yes and no, explained David Aitel, a former NSA cyberoperative, current president and CEO of software security outfit Immunity, and author of “The Hacker’s Handbook.”
“You could theoretically stop WikiLeaks with cyber-operations,” Aitel told FoxNews.com. “However, it would be extremely expensive and difficult. It’s not the sort of thing you do when you have other options available.”
Attempts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and the servers that host it have only seen the site propagate elsewhere. Since an organization like WikiLeaks lives and breathes scattered broadly across the web, there is no single “point of failure,” Aitel explained. Simply trying to shut down certain aspects of the site, such as the domain, wouldn’t do anything.
Such skirmishes have only served to strengthen the group, explained Jeffrey Bernstein, the executive vice president of security and intelligence firm Critical Defence in Washington, D.C.
"If you look at the history, WikiLeaks has had their site deactivated, their payment accounts frozen and hosting providers stripped away," Berstein told FoxNews.com. "And if you look at all these events, none of them have resulted in any effect on WikiLeaks. They've only gotten stronger."
Indeed, whenever WikiLeaks has been attacked, the number of WikiLeaks sites has actually increased. Could even a government cyber-attack take out such an amorphous yet persistent beast?
“You’re looking at something that would have to be very comprehensive,” Aitel told FoxNews.com. “Identify all the infrastructure and personnel and then target them all at once -- ideally so comprehensively that they can never recover.”
This means carefully mapping out the WikiLeaks organization from top to bottom as well as taking out all of their computing equipment, Aitel said. “Everything electronic that Assange uses would have to be touched by an expert.”
There is, of course, a caveat. Such an operation would cost a fortune, Aitel admitted. “Hundreds of millions of dollars is not out of line for hitting a group that is this skilled at what they do.” This is, after all, Assange’s turf.
“The cyberrealm is where WikiLeaks is strongest,” Aitel told FoxNews.com. “It’s well known that Julian Assange and the people he surrounds himself with are technical experts in what they do.”
Attacking WikiLeaks at its strongest point isn’t necessarily the smartest strategy. “You would have to put trojans in places that are very expensive and difficult to place,” Aitel added.
And in the end, even after consuming the exhaustive spending required to shut down the site for good, the root problem would be far from addressed. “WikiLeaks has spun off,” Aitel told FoxNews.com. “You have OpenLeaks, you have Cryptome.org, you have all these other possibilities where people can setup parallel operations."
“So shutting down WikiLeaks won't ease any of the pain. You’ve got hundreds that will spring into its place when this one goes away.”