Congressmen are calling for the website Wikileaks to be shut down after it released thousands of secret U.S. government cables at the weekend. The cables feature blunt assessments of world leaders from diplomatic staff, and embarrassing details of espionage efforts. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has called on the Obama administration “to use all legal means necessary to shut down Wikileaks before it can do more damage by releasing additional cables.”
It’s a sentiment that many share, but it’s also unlikely to work in practice. Think of how difficult it is to stop spammers or those distributing malware through websites. That requires proof that a site’s activities are illegal within the hosting jurisdiction. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) hosting the site then has to be contacted, and it has to agree to shut the site down. A site can easily jump to a new ISP.
Wikileaks is currently hosted in Iceland, but it could easily move to another country. Mirror sites all over the world could copy the information on the main site and make it available even if they main site were shut down entirely. And Wikileaks data is also circulating through the file sharing service BitTorrent. Removing all copies of that data would be incredibly difficult, as the record industry is well aware.
Even operating outside of legal means, it would be hard to shut Wikileaks down. Hours before the release of a portion of the cables on Sunday, Wikileaks came under a denial of service attack. Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at network security company Arbor Networks, has posted an analysis of the attack, which he says didn’t particularly harm Wikileaks’ operations. The site simply changed its hosting location to cloud providers in Ireland and the U.S..
Any serious attempt to take Wikileaks offline is going to meet the difficulties inherent to the Internet’s distributed, anarchic architecture. And that’s exactly what Wikileaks’ top activists are counting on.