Wikileaks, the famed whistleblowing platform, recently revealed a lot to the public. Titled Vault 7, Part 1, the documents show a grim view of government surveillance as we know it. Among the disturbing pieces of information was that of the CIA’s efforts to breach the security of Apple’s iPads and iPhones. The Central Intelligence Service has teamed up with various researchers all aimed at finding backdoors in the products of some of the biggest tech firms such as Apple, Microsoft and Google. This case is just one of the many that the CIA has employed in carrying out surveillance in the guise of finding the bad guys. In many ways, however, the agency has gone overboard with its methods.

In an annual gathering called Jamboree with Top Secret written all over it, the researchers of the CIA discuss the various ways they can harness to exploit the numerous flaws in the current consumer products. This type of meeting started even before the very first iPhone was released. The focus of these meetings has always been on finding ways to snoop into devices by exploiting the encryption keys discovered in the devices such as iPads and iPhones. These encryption keys are what keeps devices safe through the encryption of the data.

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Through these meetings, a lot has gone on including the revelation of the tools already created to exploit the available pieces of software. For example, they have created a modified version of the Xcode which allows them to plant keyloggers into iOS devices. Xcode is the software tool Apple issues to its iOS developers for the development of apps and other resources. Another piece of software discussed in these conferences is BitLocker which is the encryption system used by Windows operating systems in data encryption. With such capabilities, the CIA is in a position to steal any data it needs using its crooked ways. Here are some of them:

How the CIA Hacked Samsung TV and Spied on Users

With most people buying smart TVs that come with the capability to communicate over the internet, the CIA and other intelligence services have just found a way to enter homes and listen to everything. Using a program called Weeping Angel, the CIA can listen to the goings-on in a home by switching the TV’s microphone on even when the TV is off. As long as it is connected to the power, they can listen in according to the WikiLeaks report.

Weeping Angel was developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch. It is a software that can be remotely embedded into the device firmware itself in order to compromise it. The Fake-Off mode in which the malware sets the TV, makes it appear as though it has been switched off. It is the method the agency has favored in activating the microphones in the TVs. The Fake-Off mode in which the bug takes the TV to think it has been switched itself off falsely is the method the agency has favored in activating the microphones in the TVs.

The CIA has taken many steps into its hacking spree. Some of the hacks have been disguised as coming from other states, by modifying existing malware known to be from those regions. Especially Russia which would be an easy scapegoat for its rivalry with the United States. Most of the hacks have been performed by funded hacker groups through the Center for Cyber Intelligence which is a branch of the CIA tasked with hacking. In a manner akin to what the National Security Agency has been doing with its hacking victims. To many legal experts, these practices have gone way beyond the mandate of the CIA or any other security body.

More: Samsung’s Smart TV may be Spying on YOU!

More: Be careful of what you say in front our Smart TV, warns Samsung

How the CIA Can Hack Android and iPhones

If you thought your phone was spared, think twice. According to this WikiLeaks report, the list of methods already developed by the CIA in hacking into phones is very impressive. Both Android and iPhone devices are in danger according to this report. The CIA has methods that go as far as taking full control of the device by giving the hacker root access and taking over the phone’s kernel. With such control, the agency can do just about anything with the device they choose to focus on.

In fact, the CIA has a department dedicated to the development of software implants and exploits intended for surveilling smartphones owned by targeted individuals. The firm can hack any type of mobile operating system including the latest iterations of Android and iOS. In the documents released by WikiLeaks, the CIA has sourced these kinds of capabilities from firms such as hacking groups, security companies, the GCHQ, NSA and the FBI among many others. The documents state that the agency has a whole library filled with various types of hacking code and methods.

On the list of hacking tools are names such as SwampMonkey which is a bug that gives the CIA root access to some versions of Android devices. Another one is called Persistence can be planted by the agency into the device of an owner then gives them control of the device once the device is rebooted. The other one, which is the most dangerous, is called Shamoon and can be planted into a computer to steal all the data then destroy all the hardware parts. This is just some of the malware created by or modified by the CIA to use in its surveillance efforts.

How the CIA Can Hack Windows, Linux, Router, OSX (macOS) and others

The CIA was also revealed to have found ways of hacking into just about every operating system we use on the desktop. In a project titled Improvise, the agency was able to target the major operating systems through various exploits including Windows, macOS, and Linux. For the three operating systems, the agency had projects to carry out remote surveillance called Bartender, JukeBox and DanceFloor respectively. They have various levels of exploitation of the resources of the operating system.

In Windows, the CIA has managed to plant a backdoor that they can activate at any time they wish. For example, they can enable the backdoor when one is making a Windows update. According to Kim Dotcom, a well-known technology expert, every PC can be entered into and controlled by the CIA at their will. It is like having a door in your house that you do not know of, but your evil neighbor knows about it. In a jibe at the Obama administration, Dotcom also stated that while Obama was accusing Russia of spying on the US, the US had sent Russia devices that listened to everything Russians did.

Of the three desktop operating systems, Windows was the most targeted owing to its being the most popular. In fact, the number of exploits for the Windows operating system is more than double those created for the other operating systems such as macOS and Linux. This may not be news to many people who have been watching the number of hacks on the Windows operating system. It is a scary scenario that most users will learn of long after they have been hacked by Big Brother.

How the CIA Can Hack Cars and Trucks

Even more surprising from the documents is that Big Brother seems to have a hand in everything people do nowadays; even cars! Without actual details to the way the CIA was to hack cars, the Vault 7 documents state that the CIA has found ways of taking control of a car embedded operating system (built into all cars built after 2009). In this way, the agency can carry out assassinations without anyone taking a note of that. This remote control of cars and trucks has already been done by individual hackers and demonstrated at the Black Hat Security Conference in 2015. Therefore, the powerful CIA cannot fail to do it even better.

This information has led many people to believe that the CIA might have been responsible for the death of Michael Hastings in a road accident. The manner of his death suggests that there could be a way the CIA hacked into his car and killed him. No proof of this has been given, but there is a high likelihood that it was the case. With more and cars being connected to the internet, this is a dangerous way of hacking into people’s products and doing whatever they wish. Imagine losing control of your car and being rammed into a trailer on the highway.

Unlike smart TVs which may or may not be connected to the internet, cars and trucks are always connected so that they are able to use maps and other navigation services. A Tesla car, for example, has an inbuilt cellular radio that allows it always to be online even when charging. With hackers already having the ability to remotely control smart cars, it is easy for a firm with all the money, skills and time to set its mind on doing something and doing it as cleanly as it wants. Now even your ride is at risk.

How the CIA Carries Out its Hacks

If you are wondering how one agency can achieve all these breaches with ease, then be aware that the CIA uses malware from public hacking scenes then tweaks the code to suit its specific needs. The team tasked with this exercise is called UMBRAGE which has an extensive library of techniques and code sourced from public malware for its use when the need arises. Given the many public hacks announced over the year, the CIA has a potent tool to hack just about anything they think of.

With this library of code, the CIA can quickly put together hacking codes from various sources to create a lethal one that can do anything they want. For example, if they want to carry out surveillance on the individual of their choice, they can use code from various types of malware both to hide its signature and make it more lethal. A closer look at the types of code acquired by the CIA reveals that they are mostly crafted for personal surveillance rather than public surveillance. The extent to which this code can be changed to fit the purpose needed is high given that the CIA is said to get the parts of the code it deems relevant and changeable.

EndNote

In the documents revealed by WikiLeaks, the CIA has used various types of malware to get the information it wants. For example, it has used DarkComet as a tool to activate the webcam on a computer without the user’s knowledge. In fact, DarkComet is the same malware used by the Syrian government in hacking its citizens and finding information it needs. With such capabilities and more research being focused on the search for loopholes in which to steal data from customers, there is a high risk out there. Edward Snowden has stated that these documents appear to be authentic while researchers and experts are currently examining them.


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Ali Raza

Ali is a freelance journalist, having 5 years of experience in web journalism and marketing. He contributes to various online publications. With a master degree, now he combines his passions for writing about internet security and technology. When he is not working, he loves traveling and playing games.