Overnight the radical transparency group Wikileaks released their latest batch of classified US government documents. While still to be authenticated, it appears that this time the files are from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and they largely encompass technical documents detailing advanced cyber tools and methods.
Several of the revealed tools the agency has developed to spy on targets are interesting, but the cybersecurity community has assumed they would be the focus of intelligence agencies for some time. For instance, the leaks describe CIA efforts to bypass common encryption apps like Whatsapp and Telegram by focusing on cracking the “endpoint” device – the phone or hardware itself. With the massive expansion and investment in public encryption following the Snowden leaks, vulnerable hardware was the obvious next target.
More interesting though is that the leaks show how the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the cybersecurity landscape. The leaks detail tools and efforts to exploit Samsung SmartTVs, where microphones and cameras in some devices will appear to be turned off, but are actually recording conversations and images in the room. Similar things, like smart home devices, are likely also vulnerable. Other details in the leaks allegedly show the CIA investigating ways to break into the digital control systems of modern cars, allowing them to track or affect the vehicle in some way. The vulnerability that the IoT is bringing to consumers and individuals is growing and government and industry need to catch up. Non-state actors, like criminal groups and organisations, are not far behind state actors in exploiting the growing number of everyday devices that are digitally connected.
What these files do not reveal so far is any real wrong doing. The CIA is a spy agency so we can expect it to develop ways to spy. The Snowden leaks revealed a global and arguably overreaching intelligence collection program conducted by the NSA. These leaks detail methods to collect intelligence from individual devices and sources in an age when most people communicate digitally. Wikileaks describes part of their motivation in releasing the files is to start a conversation on cyberweapons which they say “can’t be kept under effective control”. I’m not sure if the author of that statement wrote it with any sense of irony.