Pundit calls for development of magical anti-Wikileaks computer virus

It's hard to even begin to summarize coverage on Wikileaks-related stuff today. But if you read one thing, read Marc Thiessen's fresh item at the Washington Post. It's not the fact that he's vigorously opposed to Wikileaks that's interesting, but rather his understanding of the technology at the heart of this entire saga:
Some say attacking WikiLeaks would be fruitless. Really? In the past year, the Iranian nuclear system has been crippled by a computer worm called "Stuxnet," which has attacked Iran's industrial systems and the personal computers of Iranian nuclear scientists. To this day, no one has traced the origin of the worm. Imagine the impact on WikiLeaks's ability to distribute additional classified information if its systems were suddenly and mysteriously infected by a worm that would fry the computer of anyone who downloaded the documents. WikiLeaks would probably have very few future visitors to its Web site.
It all gives me this vision of Thiessen dreaming about single-handedly stopping Wikileaks by typing "OVERRIDE PASSWORD" into Julian Assange's laptop, then hitting the delete button after a stern British female voice declares "ACCESS GRANTED." Then there is a tense moment as a glowing neon blue progress bar slowly deletes Wikileaks, but will it finish before Julian returns from the virtual reality cyber conference with George Soros where they are laughing about having just gotten an oblivious Julian Sands thrown in jail?


  1. People who don’t know what they are talking about should just STFU.

    Sorry… I don’t know what I’m even talking about. So let me amend it to “People who don’t even TRY to understand what they are talking about should REALLY STFU.

  2. Thiessen should employ the most powerful virus of all, Delete System32…just typing it gives me chills. He should start by testing it on his own PC.

  3. IOW… Wikileaks seems to be the latest scapegoat/ whipping-boy. If we can somehow remove them everything will be ok.


  4. I think you missed the part where the screen becomes a pixellated image of a skull and crossbones, and then the skull starts laughing. That part is important.

    1. George, I saw a very interesting movie the other night. It was called “The Net”. It starred that girl from “The Bus”.

      1. BWahahahaha! You guys are killing me. KILLING me!

        Thiessen’s entire quotation here, reads like a series of non sequiturs with seemingly appropriate punctuation. But, I couldn’t really tell bc I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. Maybe I get the concept, but its his execution that has me confused…OK, the concept’s a little fuzzy too.

        Something like,
        “There are a series of tubes and all we have to do is find Mr. Assange’s and shit in them”?

  5. So many problems with this idea — different operating systems, browsers, etc. Stuxnet just dealt with one platform and targeted one piece of software.

    1. Easy to deal, just upload it from a floppy diskette, that will get around the firewall. Then you’re good– it’s a UNIX system, you know this!

    2. So many problems with this idea — different operating systems, browsers, etc. Stuxnet just dealt with one platform and targeted one piece of software.

      The other problem is called Julian. He may be lacking in people skills but he knows how to keep information secure.

  6. All this talk is so silly. They say kill Assange, as if hes the only guy involved. They say “shut down the site” as if its not already copied on dozens of mirrors and P2P networks. They don’t understand the internet. They are from such a linear-authoritarian-frequentist perspective they can’t understand that this cannot be stopped. They don’t understand that there already freely available and easy to use tools like TOR and Freenet which make it impossible to censor information from people who seriously seek it.

    Its also sad that we have an age where the olds in the MSM don’t understand the internet at all. Its such a ludicrous kind of ignorance today. Its the equivalent of not knowing how a telephone works or how the post office works.

    1. There actually is a way for them to make this much, much harder to spread the leaks.

      Shut down the Internet. Yes, it can be done, send the FBI to force ISPs to shut down, cut fiber backbones, etc., etc.

      Then, sneakernet will need to be used.

  7. Hey, let’s just ignore the fact that producing software designed to do what he describes is illegal and incredibly unethical [if anyone other than a government makes it].

    I don’t feel like I should be able to say this seriously, but: FUCKING FASCISTS!

  8. Sour grapes? (in addition to general idiocy)

    The Washington Post wasn’t offered access to the State Department cables, said Marcus Brauchli, the newspaper’s top editor. Brauchli said The Post contacted the Guardian to explore a cooperative arrangement before the documents’ public release, “but they declined to share [documents] with us.” Representatives for the Guardian could not be reached for comment.


  9. Yup, it’s technological savvy and incisive analysis like this that has put good ol’ USA where it is today.

    Next time you post anything like this, could you precede it with a ‘Caution- don’t read the following if you have a mouthful of coffee’ warning.

  10. phew… oh boy… that speil about the OVERRIDE PASSWORD etc- was so beautiful. Thank you. I’m wiping away tears.


  11. It’s been a while since I saw the Lone Gunmen pilot, but I seem to remember the bad guys tracing where the Gunmen were by standing in a corridor with walls made of server terminals and then (very slowly) transferring USERINFO.TXT (or some such piffle, it was definitely a text file) into their own dastardly hands.

    Of course, just like with real-life plain text, when the connection was severed the file was lost.

    1. The Lone Gunman pilot, where they race to stop a US Government plot to fly a jetliner into the World Trade Center so as to force a worldwide war on terror.

      Creepy ehh?

      Of course, what is amazing about this story is the whole, fry people’s computers part. Let’s just say that this WERE possible. Then it would still be easier to have zombied computers log into Wikileaks and fry massive numbers of innocent machines.

      Even in a fantasy world this is a bad idea.

      1. I prefer the pilot from “Seven Days” where the plane loaded with explosives flies into the White House. Then our hero travels back in time seven days and fixes the problem.

        I often wondered about what happened in the universe where the hero started. They had a world where the attacks succeeded. Wait, that’s OUR universe!!!

        I often wondered if we had the ability to travel back in time and fix something and they only had the ability to stop one of the planes which would they do. The one that was targeted to the White House or the ones at the Pentagon and the two at the twin towers.

        I think we know which one they chose/ would have chosen.

  12. Well, to play devil’s advocate, the CIA could decide to write some viruses and seed them on torrent called “Wikileaks cablegate” or whatever it’s called, and use their hundreds of computers to keep it well-peered and near the top. And every time they get too many downvotes or people catch on and say “the NEW wikileaks torrent is called ‘Assange Rulez!'” they simply update their torrents.

    Play that game enough and surely it would put a pretty quick stop to people sharing the files through torrents. No?

    1. Wouldn’t work-at least against a cautious opponent. All the big documents dumps come along with a half dozen different hashes from various functions- hashes that are well-posted on the 700+ mirrors running at this point. Internally of course, WikiLeaks is using some of the best put-together security and crypto paranoid nerds can devise- I doubt the NSA does better.

  13. …oh, also the CIA’s torrent virus would need to say in big letters “YOU HAVE BEEN BACKTRACED TO THE CYBER POLICE! CONSEQUENCES WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!” if they really want to scare the downloaders.

  14. Well, doesn’t this just add to the day’s irony overload…

    The concept of a computer “worm” was introduced and receives its name from John Brunner’s 1975 novel “The Shockwave Rider” in which a self-replicating program is deployed to expose government secrets to everyone on the network.

  15. Wow! that’s such a powerful virus that it caused the Washington Post app to vanish from my Ipad. It’s called the life is too short to listen to idiots like Marc Thiessen virus.

  16. Thiessen’s understanding of technology is poor, and possibly based on movie cliches.

    But the “virus” he envisions already exists in the form of “drive-by downloads”. OS and browser security holes allow hackers to install spyware, virus or other kind of malware when users visit a website.

    Of course, for that to work on Wikileaks, the hackers would need to compromise its servers and install a malware payload. I’m pretty sure plans are afoot to do just that. Then again, this is a threat which every major website faces.

    Malware won’t “fry” your PC, but it can still delete all your data. Make sure you apply those security patches and keep your AV updated!

    1. True, while this is a stupid idea, it is at least technically possible. The same thing happened recently with the popular ProFTPD source code, which was replaced with a compromised version including a backdoor. If they could hack the Wikileaks servers (wherever they may be…), they could replace the cables with infected files that exploit vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader, Windows, Linux, etc. to just brick a person’s system. Again, this idea is neither good nor practical, but it’s at least feasible, (probably) unbeknownst to him.

  17. single-handedly stopping Wikileaks by typing “OVERRIDE PASSWORD”

    Why go to all that trouble? The password is always swordfish.

    1. Except when it’s the name of someone in a photo sitting right by the computer.

      Someone send him a delete system32 batch file as an attachment already and see if he opens it.

  18. Let me know when WikiLeaks is responsible for a number of deaths even approaching the number of just 10-year-olds — little boys and girls — killed in the Middle East by U.S. and coalition forces during the adventures of the last ten years.

    I’d love to see a reporter have the balls to say something like this to P.J. Crowley: “We’ve seen from the cables, over and over, in case after case, that what the State Department is saying publicly is very different from the truth you recognize internally. So why should we believe what you’re saying? Why should we think you aren’t lying right here, right now?” The only problem is that a reporter who asks real questions eventually doesn’t get asked back. Which is why we need WikiLeaks to get to the real bottom of things and do the real reporting. Because they don’t give a shit. You get to the truth when you take the self-interest out of it.

  19. Let’s assume this was reasonable and actually possible. I can just imagine what the future’s version of “rickrolling” would be.

    His ignorance of how things work aside, it is amazing to think that someone would want to turn parts of the web into “hot-zones” that spawn worms that would destroy anything connected to them (and presumably everything connected to that, and everything connected to that…).

  20. Cue for a *really* bad case of unintended consequences:-

    How do you explain yourself when this “virus” gets onto some of the computers in State Department that have these cables legitimately?

    You’ll wind up in jail for tampering with Federal computers even faster than you believed possible.

    Even for non-Federal system, doing this is flat-out illegal. Maybe it shouldn’t be (so you might be able to respond in kind to an attack) but today it is.

  21. Alright, so maybe he’s mildly confused about the exact mechanism this might be achieved, but the vitriol loaded on him here is uncalled for.

    There are a variety of completely realistic and feasible ways you could achieve the goal he outlines, or at least come sufficiently close to make a lot of government people very happy. A drive-by-download was identified above as one way, but that would require compromising WikiLeak’s own servers – not impossible, especially if you consider that the complexity of Stuxnet indicates it was likely a state-sanctioned attack (4 zero-day exploits used in that attack).

    One only has to look at the challenges the banking industry faces with attacks on their online customer portals for an idea of other ways an attack might be perpetrated. Spear-phishing, man-in-the-browser attacks, poisoned local DNS settings, and even good ol’ social engineering attacks would all be good ways to either render users unable to visit WikiLeaks or even install software capable of monitoring and severely punishing those who attempt to download WikiLeaks docs.

    I’m not suggesting this would be an all-encompassing way to achieve the goal. However, when you consider that millions of people’s machines are parts of illicit botnets without their knowledge, you can’t completely disregard the possibility that there exist some means to achieve a large part of his stated goal by infecting a large number of users’ machines in a fashion that rendered them incapable of browsing, downloading, or storing Wikileaks documents.

    He may be somewhat ill-informed for not knowing exactly how it might be achieved, but I expect BoingBoing readers to at least show some of their usual imagination and recognize he’s not completely off target.

    1. That’s it! Throw vitriol at Julian’s monitor! I saw Superman take out a PC by putting his fist through the monitor.

      Alternatively, take Wikileaks to Internet Court and file a writ of cybernetic estoppel. Damn, I wish I could remember the rest of that quote.

  22. Don’t you people understand?

    The Internet is not something that you just dump something on.

    It’s not a big truck.

  23. I see someone’s been watching reruns of 24 and CSI…

    I stopped watching 24 after getting tired of hearing such classic phrases like “He’s using static NAT mapping in the global Internet routing tables to hack the Internet!”

    1. 24 had me screaming at the bad IT a few times, but at least they researched existing, current terminology before raping it out of existence.

      I had, however, forgotten the time all the green Matrix symbols on the screen went red and the immediate conclusion was “looks like someone’s tryin’ to hack the Internet”.

  24. I was thinking today that there’s no way to stop or delete the stuff that’s already out there, but how hard would it be for someone to create something that corrupts that encrypted “nuclear option” file that has been downloaded thousands of times. You know the Gov’ment’s got people trying to crack that thing. Could they fake a release of keycode in an effort to trick the folks who want to open that thing into running it instead. But instead of opening the file, it destroys it.
    I have no idea what if what I’m talking about is possible or not, am on the fence as to whether it would be a moral thing or not to release some fake key, just curious to know if something like that might be possible.
    Probably wouldn’t be worth the effort because the first person to try it would spread the word and it would become ineffective almost immediately.

  25. give the well established FACT that the internets is as series of tubes, it is totally plausible that wikileaks’ servers could be infected with a worm that would fry peoples’ computers, and I mean, fried to a crisp! and you’re damn straight, no one would want to go to their site anymore in that event. I don’t know what you all are getting on this guy about. he clearly knows what he’s talking about.

  26. That name sounds so familiar.

    Oh, yeah, here we go: “Marc A. Thiessen (born 1967) is an American author, columnist and political commentator, who served as a speechwriter for United States President George W. Bush (2004–2009) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (2001–2004).” (Source: his Wikipedia article)

    He’s GWB’s Ben Stein.


    hoshit he’s right i mean it’s not like anyone has the ability to boot off writeprotected media or has a security model that involves sandboxing or permissions or group id’s or RAMdisks or restricted application accounts, I mean they tried it with Windows2000 but no-one used it it was just too complicated, and everyone interested in the Wikileaks are running WindowsXP right? Oh man it’s gonna be SkyNet goddamn everyone knows they can’t hack into Wikileaks cause they’re run off a sub that rises to broadcast depth right?


    *cough* Thank you, Ubuntu.

  27. Thiessen took a break from justifying torture to enable computer crime. What could be next for him? Stay tuned…

  28. isn’t that the guy who said that guantanamo inmates have no right to a lawyer because they are not charged with a crime but held as enemy combattants?

    from his couple of minutes on the daily show he looks to me like somebody who concentrates on getting his point through, not necessarily on understanding a situation.


  29. Is there a danger that this will result in the US deciding that Palladium (Next Gen Secure Computing Base) is what it really wants and insist on it. If everything is a “Trusted Computer” could the US actually kill a computer in another country belonging to a non US citizen?
    The additional benefit of enforced DRM would also help their cause.

  30. A virus would get detected by all of the infallible anti-virus programs everyone is running. We should detonate nuclear devices above every major city in the world so the EMP would destroy any Wikileaks viewing device!

  31. This rubbish was being propagated by NPR this morning, quoting some guy said to be at the National Academy of Sciences.

  32. Question one: Who on the planet hasn’t ALREADY gotten the insurance file? (And for the more paranoid among us, who hasn’t already copied it to a half dozen flash drives?)

    So even if a worm were released, how would it affect those who already have the file encased in carbonite and hidden in a safe deposit box?

    Question two: What he’s advocating is illegal. The Post accepts Mastercard & Visa for subscriptions. Why have the credit card companies not yanked the Post’s ability to process credit card transactions for subscriptions?

  33. A very widespread worm that contained copies of very unique portions of key documents (it would be a rather large one, but smaller than a youtube video) could continuously check new files to see if they contain matching portions, and if they do, do something nasty (or simply delete them? maybe replace the whole file with “STOP SNITCHING”). It’s not completely impossible, though for a worm to seek out and infect only systems that already have copies of such documents is. An easier way to go about this is just to make a fake mirror of the cablegate documents and stick something in there that after a delay (long enough for the compromised copy to potentially be mirrored by someone else) does something nasty.

    ‘Frying’ the machine isn’t practical, and I don’t know enough about this politician to know whether he knows that (and isn’t using it literally) or has been advised by the same guy who told Kennedy that the internet was not a big big truck, but doing nasty things is quite practical (especially with the windows monoculture).

  34. if Thiessen’s idea is so brilliant, why can’t it be used to take out enemies most of us would agree are worse than wikileaks. how about a computer virus that infects the old operating systems on AK-47 assault rifles, and turn it against the Taliban and Osama B. Laden? How about a computer virus that magically attaches to child pornography that makes your computer into a thermonuclear device that explodes and not only takes out the pedophile, but all the people not ratting him out (or showing up on his front porch as an angry mob) in the neighborhood?

  35. The hackergroup that released the wikileaks files also the people attacking wikileaks servers and probably uploaded some fake files to the wikileak server too with virus injected to image/video etc. and could be done in video too so youtube probably there next goal..

    Facebook has been under attack and will get problems when they attack there too i personally downloaded there bad ass wikileaks files in my stupidness and now my computer is dead i mean total dead tried resetting bios, lowlevel formatting, 3 different harddrives etc. etc. nothing helps just restart everytime it tries to write to disc.

    So enjoy your youtube and facebook fun as long it last.

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