WikiLeaks last week released a study of the brisk global trade in surveillance products, which founder Julian Assange claimed exposes a broad risk to peoples’ privacy, while also continuing work on a revamped submissions platform.
Assange said the study, which encompasses 160 companies in 25 countries, was undertaken as part of an obligation to sources for the whistle-blowing website, which has not accepted online submissions for more than a year following security concerns.
Included with the study are 287 documents that Assange said illustrate “the reality of the international mass surveillance industry.” WikiLeaks called the release “The Spy Files,” and said it shows how Western countries are selling advanced tools that are used by repressive countries. More files will be released later this week and more earlier in the year. (See also “Surveillance Catalog is Creepy Read.”)
The terrorist attacks of September 2001 in the U.S. have proved to be a license for European countries, the U.S., Australia, South Africa and others to develop “spying systems that affect all of us,” Assange said.
“Who here has an iPhone?” Assange asked attendees of the press conference in London. “Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed. The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now to countries across the world mass surveillance systems for all of those products.”
WikiLeaks said the information was compiled with help from other media and journalism-related organizations, including ARD in Germany, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the U.K., The Hindu in India, L’Espresso in Italy, OWNI in France and The Washington Post in the U.S.
The files released by WikiLeaks comprise brochures, catalogs, manuals, presentations and other documents linked with developers of covert surveillance products. One document, from the company NetQuest, was a presentation given at ISS World Americas, a conference that took place in Washington, D.C., in October. The conference was aimed at law enforcement and intelligence analysts responsible for “lawful interception, electronic investigations and network intelligence gathering.”
The Wall Street Journal recently published documents from the same conference, and Assange said that the “heavily redacted” material that the Journal released was only related to that conference. The “overwhelming” amount of material posted Thursday was new, Assange contended.
Assange said WikiLeaks is still developing a next-generation submissions system. He repeated WikiLeaks’ concern with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protocol, which enables computers to exchange encrypted information.
Assange said SSL is no longer safe and alleged that intelligence agencies have compromised Certificate Authorities (CAs). CAs issue digital certificates used for SSL. Hundreds of intermediate CAs can issue SSL certificates linked back to a root CA.
Several intermediate CAs have reported breaches in which hackers generated digital certificates for major websites including Google, which would give the hackers the ability to intercept communications.
Assange would not say when WikiLeaks will again have an online submissions system. The organization has developed an “offline component,” he said.
“At the moment, we take things in a number of ways,” Assange said.
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