CIA Surveillance: Is Your TV Really Watching You?


WikiLeaks released over 8,761 pages of documents on March 7th, 2017, (called ‘Vault 7’; check out the details here) elaborating numerous CIA programs that appears to undermine encryption in iPhones, Google’s Android phones, Samsung smart TVs and other connected devices. These documents may amount to one of the most explosive disclosures of the mass government surveillance since the Snowden revelations in 2013.

The CIA is also suspected to be targeting cars that support onboard computers linked to the internet, amid unsubstantiated allegations that once in control of vehicles, it could stage assassinations and make them look like accidents.

The British intelligence agencies- MI5 and GCHQ were dragged into the row with files showing how the UK held workshops with the CIA to find ways to ‘hack’ into household devices.

According to the documents, one exotically named program dubbed ‘Weeping Angel’ allowed spies to gain control of the Samsung F8000 range of internet-connected televisions. It was rooted in a ‘joint workshop’ held in June 2014 involving MI5 and the CIA and enabled the agencies to gain control of the TV.

1It is alleged that MI5 created a ‘fake-off’ mode, that meant television users thought sets were switched off. The smart televisions come with a microphone that is normally used for voice-activated controls, but was used as a device to record user’s conversations which were then transmitted to a CIA operative.

The leaked files also appeared to show evidence that GCHQ had collaborated with the CIA in hacking into Apple’s iPhones as well as smartphones run using Google’s rival Android software. The phones can even take photographs when owners thought them switched off. According to the documents, GCHQ, the Government’s listening agency based in Cheltenham, worked on six different methods for targeting the iOS operating system used on iPhones, iPods and iPads and one for spying on Android phones.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder who remains inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he is evading arrest, said: “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’.”

Paul Rosenzweig, founder of cybersecurity company ‘Redbranch Consulting’ and the former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Homeland Security said, “If Samsung TV is inside Vladimir Putin’s home, this is a good thing [for the CIA].”

White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer declined to comment on the leaks while former director of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden in an interview with Stephen Colbert has accepted the existence of such programs but claimed that they were used to spy on “bad people” and not on the American citizens, implying no American citizen is “bad”.

Google and Motorola declined to comment on the WikiLeaks’ claims. Samsung said, “We’re investigating the CIA’s hacking tools. Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung. We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.”

statsApple said on late Tuesday that it had already addressed many issues described in the documents released by WikiLeaks. “While our initial analysis indicates that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS, we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities,” Apple said in a statement. “We always urge customers to download the latest iOS to make sure they have the most recent security updates.”

One tool, called ‘Sonic Screwdriver’, was used to infect MacBooks through a USB or Thrunderbolt port, presumably deployed when the CIA has physical access to a device. Other implants install themselves in the computer’s firmware interface, making them undetectable through conventional forensic techniques. Most of the documents are more than seven years old, putting them significantly out of sync with the company’s current products, but they show a persistent effort by the CIA to find and exploit weaknesses in Apple products and Violating privacy rights of the US and Non-US citizens.

The documents are generally believed to be genuine, although the CIA has not acknowledged this. The publication of the documents sparked a US counter-intelligence investigation into how the documents leaked out from the CIA and made their way to WikiLeaks, with some people pointing fingers at the agency’s use of private subcontractors as a likely source.

About the Author:

Parth Gupta (Dept. of Economics, PU Campus)

Parth Gupta (Dept. of Economics, PU Campus)

I’m 18. I play a bit of guitar. Eternally on tap to share good music. Only problem with political jokes is that they get elected, and I write about them.






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