Can Kerckhoff's Principle and Plausible Deniability be applied to the non-technical aspects of the project ?


David Akin, a Canadian political journalist has this advice for the project:

Well, good luck. Professionally speaking, I rely on the quiet word, the unnamed source, the leaked document, and the anonymous e-mail as an essential source of good news items. So I'll be visiting Wikileaks when it gets up and running which, according to the site creators, will be in as little as three our four weeks.

It will be astonishing if such a system magically appears in February or March, fully tested and debugged, and is ready for lots of non-technical or only moderately technical people to download, install and run.

Much more than software is required in order for a project like this to succeed and even very technically able and well resourced organisations, running a centralised system cannot be trusted to implement secure and anonymous systems correctly

But -- as someone who is often offered confidential information -- let me pass on this advice: Those who have confidential information want to know who they're giving it to. They want to know the character of the reporter who will tell the world about this confidential information. And they want to know for a few reasons -- mostly because they need to trust that person. Wikileaks says it has some great cryptography, etc. which it says will protect its sources. And they say they've got 2 million leaked documents ready to go. Ok. Great. That's cool. But the cryptographers behind the site -- so far as I can tell -- are anonymous. That's not right. Heck, these folks could be the secret police from [fill-in-evil-country's-name-here] for all you and I know!

It should be remembered that not every user of the proposed system is going to be a vulnerable solitary whistleblower, who has never leaked any information before, and who is under direct physical threat.
There could also be many experienced intermediaries and contacts several steps removed from the prime sources who want to make use of it.

Those who are courageous enough to leak information need to leak to partners who are courageous enough to put their own name on the line and who have the fortitude to defend the anonymity of those who asked for that cloak.

What those not entirely anonymous cryptographers are probably aiming for is their Open Source system to try to obey Kerckhoffs' principle:

"a cryptosystem should be secure even if everything about the system, except the key, is public knowledge"

However, the attacks on the system are also going to be legal ones, through court orders and executive police powers etc., so the principle of Plausible Deniability also comes into play.

However, the good technical design of software programs and communications protocols is not sufficient on its own to achieve the goal of anonymous, untraceable, uncensorable publication of leaked documents by whistleblowers and dissidents.

Just look at the mess which the United Kingdom's Security Service MI5 has got itself into with its newly launched, relatively simple Terror Threat Level Status Change notification and website news update e-mail list subscription service. See Spy Blog's initial and follow up articles.

MI5 have access to all the required technical knowledge and even existing systems already set up, which could have been used to make the system secure against third party snoopers, but they did not make proper use of this.

The British public is meant to trust these people to protect them from terrorists and spies etc. and in return they demand and get a cloak of anonymity and secrecy, to protect national security.

There is a case for some public spokespeople, but why should all of of the cryptographers and volunteers be exposed to public scrutiny ?

That is a higher standard of transparency and openness than we expect from elected politicians, civil servants and police and intelligence agency personnel, or even journalists, even in relatively free democratic societies, let alone in repressive ones.

In practice, is at actually possible to apply Kerckhoffs' principle and the principle of Plausible Deniability, not to computer software and communications protocols, but to the non-technical, human aspects of the project, without creating something that is apparntly indistinguishable from a subversive conspiracy, and which will no doubt be painted as such by the vested interests who have something to lose if succeeds ?

Is it time to re-read Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones, which was popular amongst an earlier generation of internet pioneers and activists, and cyberpunks ?

All of the technical problems with the MI5 system could easily have been solved, if it had been properly tested, before its public launch, and that is what is worrying about the promise to launch software in February or March.

What exactly is it meant to do, and who has tested it ?

Where is there a detailed systems architecture document for public peer review ?

What are the trade off choices which have been made between security and accessibility and scalability ?

There are still a whole lot of unanswered questions about this ambitious proposed scheme.

About this blog

This blog here at (no "S") discusses the ethical and technical issues raised by the project, which is trying to be a resource for whistleblower leaks, by providing "untraceable mass document leaking and analysis".

These are bold and controversial aims and claims, with both pros and cons, especially for something which crosses international boundaries and legal jurisdictions.

This blog is not part of the project, and there really are no copies of leaked documents or files being mirrored here.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog@WikiLeak[dot]org

Before you send an email to this address, remember that this blog is independent of the project.

If you have confidential information that you want to share with us, please make use of our PGP public encryption key or an email account based overseas e.g. Hushmail

Now that the project is defunct, so far as new whistleblower are concerned, what are the alternatives ?

The wiki page lists links and anonymity analyses of some of the many post-wikileaks projects.

There are also links to better funded "official" whistlblowing crime or national security reporting tip off websites or mainstream media websites. These should, in theory, be even better at protecting the anonymity and security of their informants, than wikileaks, but that is not always so.

New whistleblower website operators or new potential whistleblowers should carefully evaluate the best techniques (or common mistakes) from around the world and make their personal risk assessments accordingly.

Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers and Political Dissidents

The Submissions web page provides some methods for sending them leaked documents, with varying degrees of anonymity and security. Anybody planning to do this for real, should also read some of the other guides and advice to political activists and dissidents:

Please take the appropriate precautions if you are planning to blow the whistle on shadowy and powerful people in Government or commerce, and their dubious policies. The mainstream media and bloggers also need to take simple precautions to help preserve the anonymity of their sources e.g. see Spy Blog's Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers - or use this easier to remember link:

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

Digital Security & Privacy for Human Rights Defenders manual, by Irish NGO Frontline Defenders.

Everyone’s Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship for Citizens Worldwide (.pdf - 31 pages), by the Citizenlab at the University of Toronto.

Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents - March 2008 version - (2.2 Mb - 80 pages .pdf) by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Guide to Covering the Beijing Olympics by Human Rights Watch.

A Practical Security Handbook for Activists and Campaigns (v 2.6) (.doc - 62 pages), by experienced UK direct action political activists

Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress & Tor - useful step by step guide with software configuration screenshots by Ethan Zuckerman at Global Voices Advocacy. (updated March 10th 2009 with the latest Tor / Vidalia bundle details)

WikiLeakS Links

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

WikiLeakS Twitter feeds

The website does not stay online all of the time, especially when there is a surge of traffic caused by mainstream media coverage of a particularly newsworthy leak.

Recently, they have been using their new Twitter feeds, to selectively publicise leaked documents to the media, and also to report on the status of routing or traffic congestion problems affecting the main website in Stockholm, Sweden.

N.B.the words "security" or "anonymity" and "Twitter" are mutually exclusive: Twitter feed via SSL encrypted session: unencrypted Twitter feed

Internet Censorship

OpenNet Initiative - researches and measures the extent of actual state level censorship of the internet. Features a blocked web URL checker and censorship map.

Temporary Autonomous Zone

Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) by Hakim Bey (Peter Lambourn Wilson)

Cyberpunk author William Gibson

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

Amnesty International's campaign

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team."

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

wikileaks_logo_low.jpg - the controversial "uncensorable, anonymous whistleblowing" website based currently in Sweden.

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