Wikileaks and the CIA's hacking program

  • 08/03/2017

Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has published what it says are thousands of pages of internal CIA discussions about hacking techniques used to circumvent security on electronic devices for spying, renewing concerns about the security of consumer electronics.

The discussion transcripts showed that CIA hackers could get into Apple iPhones, Android devices and other gadgets in order to capture text and voice messages before they were encrypted with specialised software.

Cyber security experts say the extent of the fallout from the data dump is at the moment unknown, but would depend on whether the infamous hacking organization will follow through on a threat to publish the tools that could cause some damage.  

Here are some questions and answers:

Q: Are the documents authentic?

A: It appears at least some are real. While the CIA has declined to comment, independent cyber security experts and former intelligence agency employees who have looked through them say that they appear to be authentic, citing code words used to describe CIA hacking programs.

Q: What did we learn about the CIA's hacking program?

A. WikiLeaks published documents that it says describe CIA tools for hacking into devices including mobile phones, computers and smart televisions.

Q: How can you hack a TV?

A: WikiLeaks said it identified a project known as Weeping Angel where US and British intelligence agencies developed ways to take over Samsung smart TVs equipped with microphones, forcing them to record conversations when the device appeared to be turned off. Experts have long said smart TVs and other internet-connected devices can be exploited to monitor a target.

Q: Are these revelations new?

A: While the specific details are new, it is well known in the cyber security community that intelligence agencies are constantly trying to leverage flaws in technology products to conduct espionage.

Q: The documents suggest that the CIA can access information in encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal. I thought they were safe from even government spying?

A: No system is perfect. The documents describe ways to get information in those apps on Android devices, but only after gaining full control of those phones.

Q: Are iPhones also vulnerable?

A: The documents discuss ways to get into iPhones as well. One appeared to show a list of Apple iOS security flaws purchased by US. intelligence agencies so they could gain access to those devices.

Q: Is this as big as the leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden?

A: The Snowden leaks revealed that the NSA was secretly collecting US call metadata on ordinary Americans. The materials released by WikiLeaks on Tuesday did not appear to reveal the existence of unknown any unknown programs. Instead they supplied details on how US intelligence agencies work to discover and exploit security flaws to conduct espionage.

Q: How did WikiLeaks get the information?

A: Unclear. Someone inside the agency may have leaked the information. Or, someone outside may have figured out a way to steal it.