The spooks of the CIA are in a place they don’t want to be, as a result of the recent WikiLeaks hack. They’re out in the open – as naked as newborn babes. The government entity whose specialty is stealing others’ secrets, is seemingly having difficulty protecting its own!
The document dump alleges that CIA software can secretly turn everyday electronics like smartphones and high-tech TVs into listening devices to spy on unsuspecting users.
The CIA is now racing to assess the damage to its operations going forward. It’s also doing urgent damage control now. It is not alone in its worry. The latest revelations by WikiLeaks are giving pause to, and instilling fear in, all users of technological devices – from smartphones to smart TVs. Apparently, no device is safe from the prying eyes and pricked-up ears of the government spies.
This not only has implications for the average citizen-consumer, but for the bad actors as well, for whom the CIA playbook has been laid bare.
There is not enough space here to bore you with the minutiae of the hack, but rest assured, you’ll hear much in the near future about “Vault 7.” It is enough to know that the CIA breached the security of consumer devices and appliances, and did not inform the companies about the security issues of their products.
Instead, it held on to security bugs in software and devices, including iPhones, Android phones, and Samsung TVs, that millions of people around the world rely on.
One leaked document suggests that the CIA was even looking for tools to remotely control smart cars and trucks, allowing the agency to cause “accidents,” which would effectively be nearly undetectable assassinations.
US intelligence and law enforcement officials seem to have authenticated the breach, saying on 8 March that they have been aware since the end of last year of the hack of the CIA that led to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks publishing agency documents about its hacking tools.
Concurrent with the admission, the gears of government law enforcement have begun to mesh. The FBI is primed and ready for a major mole-hunt to determine how WikiLeaks got hold of an alleged arsenal of hacking tools that the CIA uses to spy on espionage targets.
A former CIA agent put the breach into perspective:
“This essentially gives our enemies a playbook on how we go about our clandestine cyber-operations. This will be bad for the agency. They will have to re-examine its procedures for doing this type of work.”
Early assessments are that the leaks will set back CIA cyber-spying for years to come.
Eager not to be portrayed as the bad guy, WikiLeaks said it merely aims to exacerbate the already ongoing political and legal debate about the CIA’s cyber-arsenal, most recently maligned by the present occupant of the White House. However, it indicated it was holding back, for now, much of the technical documentation that would allow other hackers and cybercriminals to exploit the hacks.
At the same time, it claims to be putting vendors on notice to expect further revelations. In a related result, eyeing the information divulged, which shows the CIA can hack all manner of devices, the WikiLeaks dump is sending tech firms scrambling to prepare themselves for future fallout.
WikiLeaks has previously released huge caches of classified documents leaked by US Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, whose 35-year prison sentence for espionage was recently commuted by former President Obama.
I wrote recently about this issue of more frequent leaking, though I wrote in the context of the leaks being done in a partisan fashion to damage the incumbent of the Oval Office, Donald Trump. WikiLeaks’ trove may confirm the hypothesis that a layer of government exists – a dark state, if you will, which answers to no one, and which feels it is a power unto itself, free to leak with impunity what it considers to be government agency overreach or wrongdoing.
It certainly appears that the CIA’s incursion into our everyday lives, using our everyday devices and appliances, as has been reported, rises to that level of skulduggery.
What is really troublesome for the government is that this leaking phenomenon seems to thrive on itself. If so, some experts fear that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Joel Brenner, former head of US counterintelligence at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, said,
“Anybody who thinks that the Manning and Snowden problems were one-offs is just dead wrong. Ben Franklin said three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. If secrets are shared on systems in which thousands of people have access to them, that may really not be a secret anymore. This problem is not going away, and it’s a condition of our existence.’’
Reuters reported that there’s a good chance it was CIA contractors who breached security regulations, and who were behind the leaks. If this is so then it only confirms my suspicions of an out of control, subterranean surveillance state that has no allegiance to anyone, and which will stop at nothing to advance its agenda. The thought is enough to send shivers down my spine.