Wikileaks has made leaking secrets 'sexy' say experts

Julian Assange Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has changed the way we view secrets, according to the panel

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Whistle blowing website Wikileaks has made exposing secrets "sexy" according to a panel of security experts.

There is now a perception that leaking data is inherently good, a security conference in San Francisco was told.

That change in attitude is creating copycat groups that steal confidential data rather than being sent it.

The panel cited the example of Anonymous, which recently released thousands of hacked e-mails from security firm HBGary.

"It's a new age," said Kevin Poulsen, senior editor at Wired.com.

He told delegates at the RSA Conference: "[Julian] Assange's key contribution is the Wikileaks brand and the idea that leaking is a good thing... that information wants to be free.

"It has to do with who controls the internet."

His view was supported by Roger Cressey, a counter terrorism analyst for NBC News and former National Security Council official.

"Whether it is hacking from the inside or outside, in this world [Wikileaks] is making leaking sexy," said Mr Cressey.

Nothing to lose

The actions of Wikileaks have been a major topic of conversation at the RSA event.

So too has Anonymous, which carried out cyber attacks against detractors of Wikileaks and Mr Assange.

Recently the group has directed its resources at security company HBGary, a subsidiary of which had been working to uncover the identities of those behind Anonymous.

CEO Greg Hoglund was due to lead a session at RSA, called Follow the Digital Trail, that was expected to focus on the investigation.

Hacking notice on glass A notice scrawled on a window at the RSA security conference in San Francisco

The company pulled out of the show citing physical threats to staff after Anonymous published tens of thousands of e-mails that it claimed were written by HBGary executives.

Some of the messages appeared to show the firm offered to smear Wikileaks' supporters.

HBGary officials have said the online messages could have been altered before being unleashed on the internet.

Mr Poulsen said these kinds of tactics are a harbinger of what is to come.

"The future is going to be like what we are seeing with Anonymous.

"It is not going to be leaking. It is going to be hacking - with Anonymous using the ethics and the tone established by Wikileaks," he said.

Start Quote

They will have no agenda and nothing to lose. That is the future”

End Quote Kevin Poulsen Wired.com

However, Mr Poulsen added that he did not expect Wikileaks to resort to such tactics.

"Jullian Assange wants legitimacy. He wants funding and for PayPal to turn its account back on.

"He is not going to hack into a secure company to post all their e-mails.

"That is the sort of things we are going to see from Wikileaks copycat sites. They will have no agenda and nothing to lose. That is the future," he said.

Jeff Bardin, a cyber terror expert and chief security strategist at XA Systems, whose role includes analysing jihadist websites, agreed.

"They crowd source it. There is no real leader.

"People will get charged about an issue. It might be anything relative to 'information must be free' to a social ideology, and we are just going to attack this, and we are all going to join in and go home when it is done."

Everybody is vulnerable
Anonymous in masks Anonymous may opt for amusing disguises, but they are a real danger, according to experts

The conference heard that Wikileaks and Anonymous are changing the way the industry views future threats and targets.

Dr Hugh Thompson, programme committee chair for RSA and chief security strategist for PeopleSecurity, told BBC News that no one is safe.

"Is this a new form of expression that we will have to deal with?" he said.

"Think about the BP oil spill. A lot of people were very angry with BP, and the way they responded was with a protest page on Facebook along with physical protests.

"We really need to step back and ask what is the future going to look like in the wake of these Anonymous attacks if there is this ability for folks to volunteer their machines or jump into the fray on the cyber side.

"There is a real sense that things have changed and the big lesson here is that everybody is vulnerable," said Dr Thompson.

Security expert Roger Cressey added that, during the cold war, the nuclear arms race worked because of the principle of mutually assured destruction.

The internet has now changed that, he said: "We got to write the rules [then] but in cyber space everybody has the nukes to a certain degree."

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