Someone remind WikiLeaks that the U.S does not respond well to blackmail.
We'd think this was some kind of interactive Internet mystery if we didn't know better, but in fact WikiLeaks has released about 400 gigabytes' worth of mysterious data in a series of encrypted torrent files called "insurance." And no one can open it.
With nothing better to go on, the Internet has decided that "insurance" may be code for "back off" to the U.S. government—coming just before the sentencing of WikiLeaks cause célèbre Bradley Manning.
File encryption means that the data is hidden and no one can see what's in the shared files without a key to unlock them—which, of course, hasn't been publicly released.
The size of one of the files is 349 gigabytes, which means that there's either A) enough textual data inside to power a nationwide security crisis for the next 300 years or so, or B) a few very incriminating pieces of video footage.
"I'm getting the feeling these people are spreading some serious material," commented Facebook onlooker Angel Gabriell.
But the most popular theories between the comments of Facebook, Reddit, and Hacker News, are that the data contains information about the identities of U.S. secret agents currently serving around the world.
WikiLeaks has always anonymized the names of any agents associated with the data in its leaks in order to protect their identities. But with a filename like "Insurance," a few people are betting that the website is preparing for a fight with any governments who want to keep its info out of the hands of the public.
Another popular theory is that the files contain the entirety of a dump that came from the latest WikiLeaks hero, Edward Snowden.
"[C]ould it be that Snowden did a database dump of their entire mainframe, like Manning essentially did?" speculated a user called swiddie on Reddit. "The file could contain the personal information on everyone, aka stasi files, the NSA ever spied on."
That file, if it existed, could be far bigger than 400 gigs.
The files, which were seeded as torrents publicly, went up around 1:30am Eastern, roughly 12 hours or so after a sentencing judge called the actions of former U.S. soldier Bradley Manning in leaking classified data to WikiLeaks "wanton and reckless."
If the files actually are "insurance" to keep the U.S. government from tightening the noose around the necks of Manning, Snowden, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, then it's a risky gamble for the site to take, to say the least.
Assuming that the @wikileaks insurance files contain info that's harmful to the US, wouldn't they be an incentive to order a hit on Assange?— Xander Bouwman (@xbouwman) August 17, 2013
Still, not everyone is convinced the info contained inside the secret files is worth kicking up a fuss. "At 349GB it better have a stable build of that virtual battlefield simulator Bohemia Interactive makes for the military," snarked Raul Ceja on Facebook.
"I had the last one for a bit, and deleted it just now because I'm seriously doubtful these things are anything more then /dev/urandom piped into a file," commented XorNot on Hacker News.
As long as the files are released without the keys that unlock them, it's impossible for anyone, even the government, to get inside.
But if WikiLeaks releases the keys to the public—and all the governments of the world at once—then it's possible that the war on unauthorized access to government secrets could get a lot more dangerous.
Or a lot more interesting.
Illustration by dekade-z/deviantART