UnNews:MediaWiki upgrade poses security risks

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24 March 2007

Jimbohuff

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Technology news

WIKIPEDIA, Wikiland - Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects upgraded to version 2.0 of the MediaWiki software yesterday. The software, which enables the operation of "wikis" on a variety of topics, acquired a number of new features and bug fixes. However, what is causing the most commotion is a host of new user rights to be granted to selected users in the coming months. A "user right" is a permission for users in certain groups to perform privileged operations on wikis running MediaWiki, some of which are MediaWiki projects, e.g. Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia. These user rights are being criticised for their potential for abuse.

According to a Wikimedia spokesperson, the user rights were added to combat the problems of libelous or copyright-infringing content, as well as accidentally added personal information, being available in old revisions and deletion logs. The presence of this harmful data in any public form on the projects, along with the new-found prominence of Wikipedia, poses an ever greater risk of lawsuits.

Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales commented in a press release, "If we hope to achieve our goal of endowing every single human being, children especially, with all human knowledge, we must defend against these threats to our projects. We, the contributors of Wikipedia, want nothing less than the protection of the hard work of ourself on this encyclopedia."

Attracting particular skepticism is a user right entitled "fabricate," which allows a select group of users the ability to edit old revisions, without any record of having done so. The feature was allegedly introduced because of useful content being added to a page before the removal of harmful and slanderous information. "In order to comply with the attributive requirements of the GFDL, we had to take this step," says a developer. Some Wikipedians, however, are crying over the possibility the feature could be misused to falsify evidence or "frame up" Wikipedia users. This danger is expected to grow as Wikimedia wiki media edits are accepted as a reliable source of circumstantial evidence in murder trials.

Another questioned group right, innocently named "local," enables certain users to view the contents of contributors' hard drives. Says a developer, "Vandalism and sockpuppetting are really out of control, so we included this extended right to combat the problem. Certain users will be able to check on the real identity of our contributors, preventing users from registering new accounts in different locations."

The leader of the subversive development team, "Wikimedia Subversion," refused our interview request.

Bloggers did not hesitate to cry at the changes and had to be burped afterwards. The computer science professionals at Meatball Meta Wiki say they will comment once they find a way out of 1995. "This CamelCase is ReallyTangled," one said.

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