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Friday, February 11, 2011

Update: Palantir apologizes for proposal to attack WikiLeaks

raw story


Update: Palantir apologizes for proposal to attack WikiLeaks

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 -- 1:33 pm

The data intelligence firm Palantir Technologies apologized Thursday for its involvement in developing a proposal to Bank of America to attack secrets outlet WikiLeaks.

Two other data intelligence firms, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, helped to concoct a plan for a coordinated cyber assault against the website.

"I have directed the company to sever any and all contacts with HB Gary," Co-Founder and CEO of Palantir Alex Karp said in a statement.

"Palantir Technologies provides a software analytic platform for the analysis of data," he continued. "We do not provide – nor do we have any plans to develop – offensive cyber capabilities."

The plan was revealed after members of "Anonymous" hacked the email account of HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr and published its contents to the web.

"The right to free speech and the right to privacy are critical to a flourishing democracy," Karp's statement added. "From its inception, Palantir Technologies has supported these ideals and demonstrated a commitment to building software that protects privacy and civil liberties. Furthermore, personally and on behalf of the entire company, I want to publicly apologize to progressive organizations in general, and Mr. Greenwald in particular, for any involvement that we may have had in these matters."

Original story continues below.

Three data intelligence firms concocted a plan to attack WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America, according to a published report.

The three firms, Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, planned to "disrupt" Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald's support of WikiLeaks, create a disinformation campaign to discredit the secrets outlet, sow discord among WikiLeaks volunteers, and use cyber attacks to target the website's infrastructure.

The proposed assault on WikiLeaks, The Tech Herald reported, was revealed after the "non-group" of hacktivists known as "Anonymous" gained access to more than 44,000 emails from HBGary Federal's COO, Aaron Barr, after he said he had identified "core leaders" of the group. Barr also said he had information that could potentially lead to their arrest. The emails were released to the public in a 4.71 gigabyte Torrent file.

The emails show the proposal was developed at the request of the Hunton and Williams law firm, which had a meeting with Bank of America on December 3 to discuss legal action against WikiLeaks.

"They basically want to sue them to put an injunction on releasing any data," an email between the intelligence firms said. "They want to present to the bank a team capable of doing a comprehensive investigation into the data leak."

On November 30, just hours after Raw Story first unearthed evidence that WikiLeaks held data exposing corruption at Bank of America, bank executives held a late-night conference call to discuss damage control, the New York Times reported.

The bank's chief risk officer Bruce Thompson has since led a team of 15 to 20 senior officials at Bank of America to probe which executive's hard drive the anti-secrecy outlet might possess. The Times reported that the investigation involved "scouring thousands of documents" and tracing computers that had gone missing or were vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

The leaked emails also revealed that HBGary Federal planned to meet with Booz Allen Hamilton, the firm brought in to help manage the bank's internal review, a month after the proposal for attacking WikiLeaks was created.

The emails do not show what the fate of the proposal was, aside from a message that vaguely expressed hope HBGary was going to "close the BOA deal." Nor is there any information at the time of this story's publication to suggest that Bank of America was directly involved in developing the plot against WikiLeaks.

In addition to releasing internal emails to the public Sunday, "Anonymous" also hijacked HBGary Federal's website and associated Twitter accounts.

Their website was reduced to a single page that said the company was "working with federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities and redirecting internal resources to investigate and respond appropriately" to the cyber attacks against them.

"Do I regret it now? Sure," Barr told Forbes Monday. "I knew some folks would take my research as some kind of personal attack which it absolutely was not. I thought they might take down our Web site with a DDoS attack. I did not prepare for them to do what they did."

Barr added that he had to unplug his home router because "Anonymous" was trying to crack it.

Raw Story attempted to contact Barr and Bank of America, but emails and phone calls to both companies' offices went unreturned at time of this story's publication.

A copy of the companies' report is available here (pdf file).

With prior reporting by Sahil Kapur.

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