Wikileaks has exposed the CIA’s hacking tools and techniques in “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” Some readers are probably compromised without knowing it – if not by the government, then by criminals who have acquired the non-secured tools. Here’s how to assess your vulnerability and what to do about it.
What is “Vault 7”?
“Vault7” is Wikileaks’ codename for a series of massive document releases on the e-surveillance and cyber-warfare techniques of the CIA. It is not known how many releases will occur but four have so far.
- March 7: “Year Zero” contains over 8,000 documents or “more than several hundred million lines of code” – that render the CIA’s entire hacking capacity.
- March 23: “Dark Matter” documents several CIA projects to infect Apple Mac firmware and explains how the CIA gains “persistence” on “Apple Mac devices, including Macs and Iphones” and how it uses “EFI/UEFI and firmware malware.”
- March 31: “Marble Framework” offers 676 source code files for the CIA’s program that aims “to hamper forensic investigators and anti-virus companies from attributing viruses, trojans and hacking attacks to the CIA.”
- April 7: “Grasshopper” contains 27 documents from the CIA regarding “a platform used to build customized malware payloads for Microsoft Windows operating systems.”
“Year Zero” is the most interesting to Bitcoin users because it documents proximate dangers. “Grasshopper” is also important to examine.
Which Devices are Vulnerable to CIA ‘Infection’?
This Wikileaks dump reiterated something we already knew; Our devices are fundamentally unsafe. No matter what kind of encryption we use, no matter which secure messaging apps we take care to run, no matter how careful we are to sign up for two-factor authentication, the CIA—and, we have to assume, other hackers—can infiltrate our operating systems, take control of our cameras and microphones, and bend our phones to their will. The same can be said of smart TVs, which could be made to surreptitiously record our living-room conversations.
Consider just three.
Reason magazine states the danger simply. “According to Wikileaks, the documents show the CIA has a specialized unit specifically for stealing data from Apple products like the Iphone and the Ipad, and another unit for Google’s Android mobile operating system. These units create malware based on ‘zero- day’ exploits that the companies that develop the compromised systems are not aware of.”
CIA can reputedly infect computers which run on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. Mac OS or Linux – those are reported to be affected as well.
C/net reports that Weeping Angel is an “alleged spying tool, co-developed by the CIA and the UK’s MI5 security agency, which lets a Samsung Smart TV (specifically, the F8000 Smart TV) pretend to turn itself off — and record your conversations — when you’re not using the screen.” Although there is evidence of development since 2014, there is no hard evidence of completion. Note: Samsung drew sharp criticism in 2015 when its smart TVs were shown to be recording private conversations.
Weeping Angel may not affect Bitcoin use directly but it demonstrates the pervasive surveillance being pursued by the CIA.
A Truly Troublesome Wrinkle – Criminals
Most people will not be targeted by the CIA or even by government agencies with which the hacking tools may have been shared, like the IRS. But the CIA seems to have lost control of their own tools including weaponized viruses, malware, and trojans. The tools, code, and strategies apparently circulated freely among former contractors and hackers for the U.S. government, who were not authorized to view them.
NBC News reported on an interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. “Assange ridiculed the CIA for failing to guard information about its online arsenal, allowing it to be passed around within the intelligence community. That is how the material ended up in Wikileaks’ hands ─ and, possibly, criminals’, he said.” Wikileaks has “held off publishing viruses and other weapons”; it has delayed publication in order to first “disarm” the tools.
You should assume that weaponized hacking tools are in private hands. The CIA may not consider you “worthy” of targeting but criminals are less discriminating.
What to Do in Self-Protection?
- Avoid the specific companies, devices and operating systems mentioned in Vault 7. Wikileaks has compiled an impressive list of the “companies, products, tools, and terms that are mentioned in the Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed publication to date.” The list is here.
- Some companies, like Mozilla, have vowed to fix the vulnerabilities, and Assange has provided incentive. A headline in the Washington Examiner (March 18) stated, “Wikileaks threatens to reveal tech companies that haven’t responded to help offer against CIA hacks.” But how will you know if the companies actually come through? If you are loyal to an operating system, as I am to Linux, then take further steps.
- Don’t abandon encryption. It still offers better security than “naked” transmissions.
- If your iOS and Android devices are compromised, so are your apps because input can be grabbed before encryption. Use open source software whenever possible. Richard Stallman of the GNU Project explained: “Proprietary software tends to have malicious features. The point is, with a proprietary program, when the users don’t have the source code, we can never tell. So you must consider every proprietary program as potential malware.” (Android’s core is open source but closed source has been added on top of it.)
- Keep strangers physically away from your devices, because some of the compromises revealed seem to require a physical interaction.
- Update your operating systems to the latest version. The company may have fixed security weaknesses and your current system may not accept security updates. Alternatively, consider switching to an older “dumb” phone.
- Use an antivirus program. If a backdoor was installed with the company’s cooperation, malware may not be detected, let alone fixed, by security updates.
- Don’t just turn devices off. One security advisor suggests treating microphones as if they were guns. Always assume they are loaded and unplug them.
Stay safe out there.
What do you think about the CIA’s hacking tools, and Vault 7? Let us know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Pixabay, and Wikileaks.
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