Leaking is not the same as hacking. And they’re not all created equal.
Bradley Manning allegedly leaked hundreds of thousands of US documents to Wikileaks showing a litany of criminality in the “war on terror”. His act, should it be proven true, was a noble attempt to alert the world of wrong-doing and violence.
Cyber attacks used to be kept quiet. They often went undiscovered until long after the fact, and countries or companies that were hit usually declined to talk about attacks. That’s changed as a steady flow of brazen incursions has been exposed. Last year, for example, Google (GOOG) accused China of spying on the company’s workers and customers. It said at the time that at least 20 other companies were victims of the same attack, nicknamed Operation Aurora by the security firm McAfee (INTC). The hacked included Adobe Systems (ADBE), Juniper Networks (JNPR), and Morgan Stanley (MS). Joel F. Brenner, the head of U.S. counterintelligence until 2009, says the same operation that pulled off Aurora has claimed many more victims over several years. “It’d be fair to say that at least 2,000 companies have been hit,” Brenner says. “And that number is on the conservative side.”
Dozens of others, ranging from Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Intel (INTC) to the Indian Defense Ministry, the International Monetary Fund, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, have suffered similar assaults. Earlier this year hackers raided the computer networks of RSA (EMC), a marquee security firm that protects other companies’ computers. They stole some of the most valuable computer code in the world, the algorithms behind RSA’s SecureID tokens, a product used by U.S. government agencies, defense contractors, and major banks to prevent hacking. It was like breaking into a heavily guarded locksmith and stealing the master combination that opened every vault in every casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This month the Pentagon revealed that it, too, had been hacked: More than 24,000 files were stolen from the computers of an unnamed defense contractor by “foreign intruders.”