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'insurance.aes256', Julian Assange's contingency plan

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-12-15

A mammoth 1.39 GB computer file dubbed “insurance.aes256” contains explosive revelations which WikiLeaks has promised to release to the public should charges be pressed against its founder Julian Assange.

Even as crowds gathered outside a British court on Tuesday for the first hearing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a document circulating on the Internet appeared to be attracting ever more attention. A huge computer file known as “insurance.aes256”, available on Internet torrent sites since July, has seemingly offered the WikiLeaks founder a new lifeline. The so-called “life-insurance” file contains yet more political and diplomatic secrets which some say will prevent powerful opponents of the whistle-blowing website from threatening its founder.

If any harm befalls either the organisation or its extremely media-exposed representative Assange, WikiLeaks has promised to release the document’s decryption key to the public. During a recent interview to the American news channel Democracy Now!, Assange himself stressed the importance of the document. “It might be worth ensuring that important parts of history do not disappear,” he said.

“insurance.aes256” weighs in at a hefty 1.39 GB. “This is huge if it contains only text. So there is a chance that the document also contains images and other multimedia elements,” said Laurent Heslaut, director of security technology within the American anti-virus software firm Symantec.

3x1051 years

The contents of this “Sword of Damocles” being held above the heads of Assange’s powerful detractors have inevitably been the subject of much speculation. The possibility of uncovering secrets surrounding Guantanamo Bay or serious revelations regarding the background of the global economic crisis are the most frequently hypothesized. Most probable of all is that “insurance.aes256” contains the previously undisclosed identities of people WikiLeaks has so far sought to protect.

Yet to read the document one will need to get past an encryption key of 256 bits, which many believe uses the AES encryption algorithm also used, quite ironically, by NASA for documents classified as “Top Secret”.

The code is currently considered one of the most secure forms of data protection available. “It would take, a priori, 3x1051 years for an army of computers to decipher this code,” says Renaud Bidou, technical director of the French technology security firm Deny All. Unless, like the lottery, in one huge stroke of luck you find the winning number…
 

Date created : 2010-12-15

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