Researchers are developing a system to let whistleblowers securely leak data via Web browsers

Researchers are developing a system to let whistleblowers securely leak data via Web browsers

New Web-based technology might make leaking data easier and more secure in the future. Researchers in Germany are developing a platform based on Internet ads to help whistleblowers like Edward Snowden leak top-secret information without their activities being caught out online.

AdLeaks is a system that is being designed to minimize the footprint of leaking information online in order to avoid the gaze of wide-reaching, international monitoring systems — such as those that the US is reported to use to keep track of overseas and domestic Internet traffic.

In response to the networks — which make anonymized programs like Tor traceable — Professor Volker Roth and his team at Freie Universität Berlin are developing AdLeaks, which aims to bury leaked and secret information among the noise of ads and rush of Internet traffic.

The system uses Internet ads to dispatch small programs that are supported by most websites to encrypt and transfer empty messages to the AdLeaks server whenever a website is visited. The whistleblower simply adds a small piece of code (obtained by scanning a QR code) to modify their browser to encrypt and transfer confidential messages rather than the regular empty ones, which is how the leaks are delivered.

Due to the fact that all visitors to that site are submitting the same type of data, surveillance and filtering programs do not see anything abnormal and clearly different within their data, the AdLeaks website explains.


Roth and his team say that the system could not support large scale disclosures since file transferring requires the leaker to visit websites that feature AdLeak ads. The set up could take “weeks” to transfer data but would be very secure, they add.

There are also a number of limitations at this point.

The system the researchers are building is a frontend to handle submissions, so they will need partners to provide a backend that can securely receive and distribute information in order to complete the platform. In addition, a whistleblower needs a file transfer system in place to facilitate the process and that needs figuring out still.

AdLeak is being developed alongside computer science professor Sven Dietrich from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. The team just introduced the first version of the source code this week and is seeking testers to provide feedback.

There is still some way to go before AdLeaks could become a fully-fledged platform the future Snowdens and Mannings of this world, but it looks to have the potential to explore new routes for providing greater transparency to the public.

You can find more details at

Headline image via Thinkstock

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