Tech giants reluctant to agree to WikiLeaks data preview proposal

10 Mar 2017

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, on a billboard. Image: Richard Frazier/Shutterstock

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange believes that Silicon Valley’s largest companies would benefit by partnering with the organisation, but tech giants are wary of getting caught in a legal nightmare.

Already viewed as a pariah by the US government, WikiLeaks compounded this by revealing the cyber weapons arsenal of the CIA earlier this week, which included ways the agency could spy on citizens through smartphones and even smart TVs.

To add further woes to the US intelligence community and government, WikiLeaks said this leak makes up just 0.1pc of the total files they have.

A change of tack

WikiLeaks is now changing its tack by saying that from here on in, it wants to send subsequent leaks to tech giants such as Google and Apple first.

The idea is that a company will be made aware of a vulnerability in its product or system first, in order to give it a head start before the news is made public.

According to The New York Times, Assange made an announcement from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, his residence of the past few years, revealing that WikiLeaks would be actively seeking to cooperate with tech companies.

Maintaining a neutral position on the revelations, Assange said: “We have decided to work with [manufacturers] to give them exclusive access to the additional technological details we have so that fixes can be developed and pushed out.

“Once this material is effectively disarmed by us, we will publish additional details.”

Conflict of interest

With no prior awareness of the CIA malware, Apple appears to be the only company to have reacted quickly to the revelations, with patches issued to the latest version of iOS.

Other platforms and manufacturers such as Google’s Android, Samsung and Microsoft have said that their teams are currently trying to plug any vulnerabilities in their systems.

However, Microsoft has come out strongly against WikiLeaks, saying it did not want to work with the organisation and that its “preferred method for anyone with knowledge of security issues, including the CIA or WikiLeaks, is to submit details to us at”.

Another reason for the hesitancy of Silicon Valley to get involved is that it could lead to a legal quandary where some of these companies’ staff members have close ties with the US government.

“If you are holding a security clearance and you engage in the movement or sharing of this data, you could have your clearance revoked,” said Brian White, COO of cybersecurity firm RedOwl Analytics.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, on a billboard. Image: Richard Frazier/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic