Getting Paid in Bitcoin For Leaked Data, The Future of Whistleblowing?

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There has been quite a few revelations revealed by whistleblowers recently.

The most prominent being Edward Snowden’s reveal of how the NSA and government agencies are collecting information and spying on unknowing citizens.

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Edward released this information to the public, because he thought it was in the public interest.

But there are other incentives for people with valuable information: money.

Two developers have just released a piece of open-source software that is designed to pay people in Bitcoin for leaking secret information.

This can be to either a private buyer or the public.
The software, called PayPub is still just a prototype.
But its creators say it has all the features necessary to facilitate a new model of anonymous, profit-driven leaking of information online.

Or it could even go a step further and help create a decentralized black market in secret information.

“I’ve wanted for a while to make a marketplace where people can leak information and others can pay for those leaks,” says PayPub’s co-creator Amir Taaki, who has gained notoriety for his work on other radically anarchist bitcoin projects.

“Leakers are taking a risk, and they should be rewarded.”

Taaki and his partner Peter Todd, say they have been inspired by the likes of WikiLeaks and Snowden.

They see a chance to encourage game-changing leaks with financial incentives.

A kind of bitcoin Kickstarter for leakers.

“When you add a monetary component, you can get data from people who don’t want to pull a Snowden for nothing,” says Todd, a bitcoin consultant and adviser to several startups.

“This can be a powerful motivator.”

Unlike the many other leaking projects such as WikiLeaks, PayPub isn’t a publishing platform or even a website.

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Leakers have to find their own ways to anonymously offer their leaks.

This could be via a website protected by the anonymity software Tor or with encrypted messages from a throw-away email address.

They also need to find their own method of publishing the leaked documents, like uploading them to The Pirate Bay or Pastebin.

Also with the tractability of Bitcoin through the blockchain, leakers and leak buyers are recommended to use Bitcoin laundering services such as Bitcoin Fog.

Ultimately PayPub offers a great set of crypto tricks designed to monetize leaks and to make sure nobody gets adversely affected in the transaction.

As described on the software’s Github page, the software lets a leaker reveal a randomly-selected portion of the leaked files as a preview, along with a suggested price.

If potential buyers are interested in seeing more, they can use the program to generate Bitcoin addresses to which they can pay coins in exchange for revealing more portion of the files.

Those addresses are carefully designed in such a way that the leaker can only claim the payments by revealing the decryption keys that allow more of the file to be unscrambled.

Still being a prototype, it is currently a little complicated.

Taaki and Todd are the first to admit that the system is not very user-friendly in its current state as a command-line tool.

But, like many other young projects, they hope other developers will continue to improve on it and build an interface that hides more of its complexity.

“This is kind of the equivalent of PGP in the early nineties versus modern encryption tools,” says Todd.

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Todd also points out that PayPub can be used for less controversial files than leaked secrets.

“It doesn’t have to be financial documents or WikiLeaks cables,” he says.

“It could be something much more prosaic, like software you want to be paid for when you release it to the public.”

Still, the project shows the potential for the future of anonymous data leaks.

With software like this, we could possibly see many corporate insiders and government workers willing to spill information to the public for a financial incentive.

Snowden’s violations of his top-secret security clearances to give the NSA’s files to a handful of journalists generated enough angry debates.
Cryptocurrency fueled leaks would of course be far harder to morally justify.

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