We weren't out to get Hillary, insists Wikileaks journalist after election defeat

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Wikileaks journalist Sarah Harrison at the Info Sec Conference in the RDS. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Wikileaks journalist Sarah Harrison at the Info Sec Conference in the RDS. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The exchange was terse, the atmosphere uncomfortable as Wikileaks journalist Sarah Harrison came under the spotlight for the first time over her organisation's involvement in the US election.

Their intention was not to scupper Hillary's campaign, Ms Harrison said. "That was not at all what we were aiming at.

"Our goal for all of our work and for our publications is to inform the public and to allow them to access source documents not through any media gatekeepers," she said.

Wikileaks' only goal had been to "inform the electorate", she insisted.

"We only published what we actually received," she said in relation to emails released by Wikileaks during the fraught election campaign.

Ms Harrison was the headline interview at the Dublin Info Sec 2016 Conference organised by INM at the RDS.

Mary Aiken at the INM Info Sec conference yesterday.
Mary Aiken at the INM Info Sec conference yesterday.
INM Technology Editor Adrian Weckler
Terry Greer King, director of security for CISCO UK, Ireland and Africa. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Security consultant Brian Honan. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Experts in cybersecurity addressed IT security topics including the threat of ransomware, human factors in cybersecurity, and Ireland's particular risk level of being attacked.

Amongst the cautious and those concerned for the safety of society amid the growing perils of the dark web, Ms Harrison stood alone as a representative of the defiant funnel through which the hacker rises to the surface - for better or worse.

Speculation is rife that the activities which led to Ms Clinton's downfall may have been instigated by Russia - but Ms Harrison herself claimed not to know. Wikileaks had no contact with its sources and motive did not matter, she insisted.

Nobody can 'wikileak' Wikileaks, it seems. Or at least, not yet.

And yet, the organisation's activities "had the biggest impact on the decline" of Ms Clinton's campaign, Ms Harrison admitted.

They had put out a general call for information on "all candidates", she said.

It was left to us to surmise that nothing of worth had come back on Donald Trump.

"We didn't take an editorial decision to support a particular candidate, unlike other major news outlets," she said.

Ms Harrison explained that Wikileaks had been set up with an anonymous submissions system.

"We don't know where our sources are coming from and we don't want to know, to protect them and to protect ourselves," she said.

Wasn't that rather reckless, asked Dearbhail McDonald, INM Group Business Editor, suggesting media has a duty to their readers to reveal the particular biases from which they come.

"I don't see why motive should matter," replied Ms Harrison, who believed that if you probed into such matters, it might "deprive the world of information".

We had entered an era of "radical transparency", mused TJ McIntyre, chair of Digital Rights Ireland.

But was this a good thing or a bad thing?

The question seemed to be the theme of the day - with cyber experts warning of an alarming world where your smart TV could potentially blackmail you in your own living room and the potential of a 'cyberwar' which could see whole societies denied food, fuel and medical supplies.

"The internet is not secure and was never designed to be secure," said security consultant Brian Honan.

Cyber security strategist at Thycotic, Joseph Carson warned Ireland was at risk of becoming used as a springboard in a cyber attack because of its Atlantic position in the international supply chain of information between the US and the UK.

This made us a strong target of a DDOS attack for those intent on disrupting trade, he said.

The Belfast man, who lives in Estonia, said Ireland should take note of how things are done there. Estonia fell victim to a cyber attack in 2007 following violent protests after the moving of a bronze statue commemorating a Soviet WWII soldier.

Rik Ferguson, global vice-president of Security Research at Trend Micro and special adviser to Europol, warned of the dangers posed by 'smart' gadgets in the home. He painted a scenario where a message pops up on your TV screen and demands a payment to continue watching - or a message from your central heating demanding money in exchange for service continuing.

Such a situation is not impossible, he insisted - not enough is being done to build in security before devices leave the factory floor.

Michael Gubbins, Detective Superintendent of the Garda Cyber Crime Bureau, said Irish companies were failing to report cyber crime - partly because of the fear for their reputations, business continuity, or possibly due to embarrassment.

"Maybe they feel there's no need to tell the guards but we'd like them to tell us so we can share the information with the European Cyber Crime Centre," he told the Irish Independent.

Learning must start early, the experts warned.

Children need to start wiseing up to the dangers of the internet by the age of six because even by that age they could expose their families to harmful hacking just by messing around on a smartphone.