A worm is a self-replicating program. It breaks into a computer and jumps from system to system. In 1990, they still were uncommon. We didn’t know what it would do. We knew it was malicious. If the worm got into a machine, it would change the announcement message, and spelled out it in little lines and littles characters.


Like the word  W-A-N-K  (Worms Against Nuclear Killers)


It was a Monday morning before launching Galileo. NASA Network Administrator said that there was a worm that had been detected.

You would be logged into your machine and you’d get this message W-A-N-K. It scared a lot of people. They were afraid that WANK would cause a launch failure.

Galileo launched without incident but the WANK worm spread affecting over 300.000 computer terminals around the world. Investigators traced the origins of the WANK worm to Australia. National police suspected of a small group of hackers in the city of Melbourne. But a key clue tuned out to be in the message itself. There was a lyric from the Australian band, Midnight Oil, «Blossom & Blood», where we can find the message.


Cyberspace is like a galaxy of passageways, constantly moving streams of data with a simple computer, anyone can enter and explore.

There are people who like use trap doors to enter where it wasn’t supposed to go, to find secrets and expose them. They can build a machine for leaking secrets, a website and electronic drop box that could receive secrets sent by people who didn’t want to reveal who they were. Once the website had the secrets, it would publish them across servers, domain names and networks so numerous that the information could never be taken down.

There has never been anything like this. A mountain of secrets dumped into the public domain by a website.

Before this website was front page new, there were some smaller successes. The website published evidence of a tax-evading Swiss bank, government corruption and murder in Kenya.

One early leak was from the National Security Agency: frantic text messages from desperate workers trying to save lives on 9/11. In fact, 9/11 turned out to be a watershed moment for the world of secrets, both for the leakers and the secret keepers. After 9/11 the U.S. government started sharing more information between different agencies. But at the same time, the U.S. also started to keep more secrets from its citizens.

The Data Centers sprang up all over the country. The U.S. launched a massive expansion of its operations to gather secrets. The amount of classified documents per year increased from eight million to 76 million. The number of people to access to classified information soared to more than four million.

So if we are to produce a more civilized society, a more just society, it has to be based upon the truth. Every week this people achieve major victories in bringing the unjust to account and helping the just.

When I heard about this, I am struck by the vaulting idealism and forthrightness about what they believe in. But we have a lot of work to change how the world really work now, this “Wizard of Oz Moment”.

Transcription of the film and ©pictures:

We Steal Secrets. Director: Alex Gibney

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