TechFlesh Blog

The Technical Aspect of WikiLeaks

Background

WikiLeaks has been in the news for quite some time now as it has rocked many nations, embroiling itself in controversy over the fact that it has been releasing classified documents which have been termed as potentially harmful for national security as well as international diplomacy. Amidst all the confusion related to its ethical and moral standards, people around the world have also speculated how the site functions technically, as a site which has been so controversial, might be technologically sound as well because various steps have already been taken in order to shut the Website down but none of them have availed any results.

Programming

The creators of this site, most of whom remain unknown, created their websites using PHP Hypertext Preprocessor which is a widely used scripting language and was originally designed for the development of web pages and the production of dynamic web pages. PHP code is a programming language for the general purpose. It performs necessary operating system procedures and produces program output. Most modern web servers use this code as a standalone interpreter as most operating systems and platforms are accessible and compatible with it. This site is no exception as it uses this to embed the code into the HTML source document and then allows it to be interpreted by a server.

Using this method, this site ensures that the contents of the website or the leaks are made accessible to everyone as this code is supported by most operating systems and computing platforms. Irrespective of this site’s moral stand, one cannot help but be amazed at how technologically sound the whole process is because by using something as simple as Hypertext Preprocessor, this site has made classified information available to all and since most operating systems support PHP, it has become really easy to access the data all over the world.

This site also uses Active Server Pages or ASP which is a server side script engine which generates web pages dynamically. Web pages which use the file extension.asp and have this scripting in them are much faster than server side scripting which can be interpreted during the run time. This site uses asp in order to make the web pages much faster and since they deal with a huge number of cables, classified documents at once, it is highly necessary that their web pages are fast and agile because their web pages are being accessed by a huge number of people worldwide and it will be problematic if their pages start slowing down.

Database

This site must also be using SQL or Structured Query Language, which is a computer language designed for managing data. Inserting data, queries, updating and deleting, controlling the access of data, all these are functions which are performed under SQL. This site surely must be using SQL because when one visits their website; one can browse releases according to their dates of release, or browse releases according to their alphabetical origin. This site also allows its users to browse archives based on the nature of the information, whether or not it is classified, confidential, based on its secrecy or for official use only.

A site can be decorated in such a manner only when Structured Query Language is used as SQL is needed to input queries and queries at this site are referred to the division on which the information is archived. Articles which can be browsed according to the origin of their nation or according to the date when the cables were released, require SQL to function because without SQL, proper query related inputs could not have been made. (Editor’s Note: There is a minute possibility that the data is being pulled using flat text file database as was suggested by one of the regular visitors to this site. However, it EXTREMELY unlikely given the fact that WikiLeaks is dealing with very high amount of text data and would an unreasonable load on the servers that host the site.) This site does a clever technical job of using SQL in order to promote accessing cables from all over the world.

This site has a huge database which contains a gigantic amount of data. This site has been embroiled in controversy ever since it started leaking documents. The database consists of data or classified, secret documents collected from all over the world. The data is in digital form and also video or other formats are used by this site to store the data. Technically speaking, managing such a big base of data is problematic unless it is organized externally, conceptually and internally.

The external data bank of this site is a sort of single base of data which can be viewed any number of times and that is the data bank which is accessed by the visitors when they visit the site. The internal data bank of this site is one which can be accessed by its officials and creators, to be precise the original, total base of data. The creators and the officials manage and decide how data is stored and processed by the system how the internal data bank must function. The conceptual data bank of this site provides a common view of the data without disclosing details regarding the storage and management of the data. This site’s usage of technology is proper because managing such a big data bank requires proper technical management and going by this site’s performance, the site is doing it quite efficiently.

Multimedia

This site has also released classified information using videos. Many have wondered how this was accomplished. Technically this is not a very difficult thing to do and this site, which has always adopted simple technical methods for its revealing classified information, used Flash, the simplest video related tool to reveal classified information via video format. This is a container file format which is used to deliver videos over the internet. It uses various versions of Adobe Flash Player for this purpose. This is technically a safe thing to do because many people use this program as an internet video delivery tool and it is supported by most operating systems, browsers and has a high level of popularity amongst people. By using this as a video delivery tool, this site has given access to millions of people who are familiar with it and can view this site’s videos.

Navigation

The creators of this site have setup their website carefully, ranging from the Navigation of the site, to the design, color and the programming tools. The site, despite its share of controversies and various efforts by many to try and shut it down has maintained a relatively simple approach when it comes to navigating the site.

This site deals with secrets, but does not require its users to be secretive and has simplified the site for the benefit of their use. The biggest technical aspect of a site is that it must be as simple as possible so that users do not face much difficulty while accessing it. This site might deal with serious classified information but when it comes to the site, the navigation is like any other simple site which makes the approach much easier and much more accessible.

The navigation of the site consists of the Main Page where the main link of the 250,000 US Embassy Diplomatic Cables is given. When clicked, the link redirects to another page where all the articles are arranged according to the origin of their nation, a section of the latest releases is given, one can browse articles according to their date of creation and day of origin an articles can be browsed according to the nature of their classification, be it confidential, secret, unclassified or for official use only. The page also cleverly gives a set of directions as to how should one explore the data.

The Navigation part is a serious technical achievement because coming from a site as controversial and as security prone as this site, one might expect difficulty in browsing through the website and accessing the cables. But this site does a technically brilliant job of simplifying the method of viewing its contents. The page also allows the users to navigate to section where videos are posted. One can easily view the videos related to the cables and watch them during their leisure. The navigation system of this site has been simplified to such an extent that it is both tempting as well as easy to go through the website.

Design

This site’s design is somewhat like the traditional website design, somewhat similar to another well known site Wikipedia. This site has been designed in such a way that the main page categorizes recent leaks so that anyone looking for recent news will be able to find it there. It also has a search bar where other WikiLeaks related items can be searched and found. From a technical point of view, the simplistic design of this site is beneficial because unlike its contents, the site does not have anything complicated and is very simple to both approach as well as access.

Redundancy

This site is also concerned about its security and since technology has reached a new level, it is possible to shut down a site as controversial as this. In order to technically combat such threats, this site has set up multiple mirror sites. Mirroring a site is basically maintaining a copy of the site on various servers across the world. So if a certain server does not allow a user to access the site, another server will allow the user to access the site. Since this site has numerous mirrors across the world, it is not easy to shut down the site because any available mirror site can be accessed even if one server is not available.