The first question that we asked ourselves when presented with this information was simply “How?” Well, you can blame unscrupulous government contractors and hackers that have made it their mission to penetrate the most secretive parts of U.S. governmental agencies. According to WikiLeaks, it was a member of one of these two groups that provided the information which is now being distributed.
In addition to the thousands of documents that are being revealed, WikiLeaks says that the CIA has “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized "zero day" exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation.”
Vault 7 is the codename for the entirety of the CIA hacking arsenal that was obtained, but it is being released in stages. The first stage of this release is called ‘Zero One’ which, “introduces the scope and direction of the CIA's global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of ‘zero day’ weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products.”
According to WikiLeaks, the bulk of the CIA’s hacking tools were developed by the CCI’s Engineering Development Group (EDG). The tools, which can be used to spy on unsuspecting parties, are incredibly effective in their respective missions. Spyware targeted at Samsung Smart TVs is capable of giving the owner the impression that the TV is off, when it is actually still on — a mode that is called “Fake-Off”. In Fake-Off mode, the Smart TV is capable of recording conversations and sending the information gleaned over a secure channel back to the CIA.
Not even Apple’s iOS devices are safe, as the Mobile Devices Branch (MDB) has developed tools that can penetrate, control, and siphon data from iPhones and iPads with relative ease using zero-day exploits. Despite Apple have only a 14.5 percent share of the global smartphone market, the CIA has devoted an entire team within the MDB to infiltrate iOS devices. “The disproportionate focus on iOS may be explained by the popularity of the iPhone among social, political, diplomatic and business elites,” writes WikiLeaks.
As you might expect, there is also a team that develops tools to peel back the security layers of smartphones running Google’s Android operating system. And if you think that your secure messaging apps are safe — guess gain. “These techniques permit the CIA to bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman by hacking the "smart" phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied,” WikiLeaks continues.
Even desktop users aren’t safe from the CIA, as you might have already guessed, as there are multiple hacking tools used to target systems running Windows, macOS, Linux, and even Solaris. It appears that no one is safe if the CIA has deemed you a target for surveillance.
We guess that it should come as a complete shock that the CIA will use all the resources that it has at its disposal to carry out its missions around the globe, but it’s still a bit unsettling to see these practices unearthed in such a manner by WikiLeaks.
Top image source credit: Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons