Attack Hits Wikileaks Cable Site

A web attack has been launched against the Wikileaks site set up to host leaked US diplomatic cables. Wikileaks had made a trove of U.S. diplomatic documents available on Sunday. The deluge of data launched against the site managed to briefly make it unreachable around 1200 GMT on November 30. So far no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the so-called denial-of-service (DoS) attack. A similar attack was launched against the main Wikileaks site prior to the public release of the first cables on Sunday.

The cablegate site went live on Sunday night and soon after started to suffer occasional downtime. Sunday’s attack didn’t stop the publication of stories based on messages leaked from the U.S. State Department in several major newspapers. Wikileaks had given the media outlets prior access to the diplomatic cables to publish in conjunction with their Sunday release on its site. The cables, many of the classified, offer candid, sometimes unflattering assessments of foreign leaders, ranging from U.S. allies such as Germany and Italy to other nations like Libya, Iran and Afghanistan. The cables were sent by American diplomats between the end of 1966 and February 2010. The release prompted widespread condemnation from U.S. officials and a range of reaction from other governments.

On Tuesday, Wikileaks revealed that the separate cablegate website was suffering a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack via a message posted to its Twitter stream. A DDoS attack involves swamping a site with so many requests for access that it becomes overwhelmed. Data gathered by net monitoring firm Netcraft showed that the cablegate site was intermittently available around Tuesday lunchtime and early afternoon because of the attack.

Wikileaks said the malicious traffic was coming in at 10 gigabits per second on Tuesday, which would make it a relatively large effort. According to a study by Internet security company Arbor Networks, the average DoS attack over the past year was 349 megabits per second, 28 times slower than the stream Wikileaks reported.

Prior to the launch of the site, Wikileaks had taken the precaution of hosting it on three separate IP addresses to cope with any attack. “This does not appear to have prevented the current attack from succeeding,” wrote Paul Mutton, a security analyst at Netcraft, in a blog post. He told BBC that it was hard to work out what type of attack was underway. At the weekend before the cablegate site went live, a hacktivist known as The Jester threatened to attack Wikileaks claiming its leaks of cables would endanger US troops. Mr. Mutton said the latest attack was unlikely to be the work of The Jester as he has typically used Twitter to announce his targets. Something that was not done before the latest attack began. “The cablegate site has only released 281 of the 251,287 leaked cables, so these attacks are likely to be symbolic action more than anything else,” said Mr. Mutton. (BBC)

The site appears to have recovered from the attack with the help of Amazon.com Inc.’s U.S.-based server-for-rent service. Late Tuesday morning, web traffic to the site was handled by Amazon Web Services.

The site, which is devoted to releasing anonymously submitted documents, also came under attack Sunday, but Tuesday’s attack appeared to be more powerful. Calls to Seattle-based Amazon.com were not immediately returned. Bahnhof, a Swedish Internet company that has been involved in hosting Wikileaks, had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton landed Tuesday in Astana, Kazakhstan, to begin a four-day trip abroad. Taking questions at a town hall session titled “Empowering Civil Society for Central Asia’s Future,” Clinton called the release of the classified cables on the Internet “very irresponsible” and outlined how she plans to address the revelations when speaking with other diplomats during the trip. “I, of course, have been reaching to government and leaders around the world over the last week,” she said. “As I said before I left Washington, we consider it regrettable that information that was meant to be confidential has been made public, and I particularly worry about the human rights activists, the religious leaders, the critics of governments who speak to members of our embassy about abuses in their own country, whose name may either be in a reporting cable or who may be identifiable because of the description of the person,” Clinton said. (CNN)

In Kazakhstan, Clinton is scheduled to meet with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, both of whom are mentioned in a cable purportedly written by U.S. Embassy staff and published by Wikileaks about the “recreational habits of Kazakhstan’s leaders.”

“Kazakhstan’s political elites appear to enjoy typical hobbies – such as travel, horseback riding, and skiing. Not surprisingly, however, they are able to indulge in their hobbies on a grand scale, whether flying Elton John to Kazakhstan for a concert or trading domestic property for a palace in the United Arab Emirates,” the cable says. (CNN) It describes John performing at a birthday party for Nazarbayev’s son-in-law and says singer Nelly Furtado performed at a birthday bash for his daughter. It also mentions Saudabayev’s skiing vacation in Europe with a Kazakhstani billionaire. Clinton expressed that the U.S. diplomatic efforts around the world will survive the leak of the documents.

Sarah Palin is demanding the world hunt down the director of Wikileaks “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.” (The Star) On her Facebook site, Palin described Julian Assange as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.” Assange, who created the non-profit, whistle-blowing site to expose government secrets, has made no appearances recently. “What steps were taken to stop Assange?” Palin asked. “Why haven’t NATO, the EU and anyone else been asked to disrupt Wikileaks? Shouldn’t they at least have their financial assets frozen?” (The Star) The blame, she said, lies with “the Obama administration’s incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.” (The Star)

Assange, 40, has refused to disclose the source of the leaked documents although it’s believed to be U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who has been in custody since May because of an earlier attack.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said “Wikileaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals.” As for legal action, he said, “We are looking at a whole host of things and I wouldn’t rule anything out.” (The Star)

The Associated Press on Tuesday quoted an unnamed government official as saying U.S. lawyers were poring over legal manuals to see if Assange could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department and Pentagon are conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation.” (Washington Post) Others familiar with the probe said the FBI is examining everyone who came in possession of the documents, including those who gave the materials to Wikileaks and also the organization itself. No charges are imminent, the sources said, and it is unclear whether any will be brought. Former prosecutors cautioned that prosecutions involving the Espionage Act is a 1917 statute that preceded Supreme Court cases that expanded First Amendment protections. The government would also have to persuade another country to turn over Assange, who is outside of the United States. But the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is rapidly unfolding, said charges could be filed under the act. The U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria – which in 2005 brought Espionage Act charges, now dropped, against two former pro-Israel lobbyists – is involved in the effort, the sources said. (Washington Post)

Holder was asked Monday how the United States could prosecute Assange, who is an Australian citizen. “Let me be very clear,” he replied. “It is not saber rattling. To the extent there are gaps in our laws,” Holder continued, “we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say… that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that’s ongoing.” (Washington Post) He did not indicate that Assange is being investigated for possible violations of the Espionage Act.

Sweden, where Wikileaks is based, has been investigating Assange because of accusations of sexual assault that were dropped and then renewed. Sweden has also refused him of residency. On Tuesday, Ecuador offered residency to Assange, who is Australian. In an interview with Forbes magazine on Nov. 11, Assange said his next target will be international banking. The private sector, he said, covers about half of the documents sent clandestinely to Wikileaks but not yet published – over and above the current U.S. diplomatic cables. “It could take down a bank or two,” he told Forbes.

Earlier this year, Wikileaks revealed more than a half-million military documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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