WikiLeaks began on Wednesday a new series of leaks from the Central Intelligence Agency. The transparency organization has dubbed the corpus of leaks "Vault 7
" and says it is the largest publication of confidential documents from America’s top intelligence organization. The first part of the series, "Year Zero", brings together 8,761 documents and files from a high-security network with the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence in Virgina. This follows, the organization said in a statement, an introductory disclosure in February of CIA targeting of French political parties and candidates in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election.
According to WikiLeaks, the CIA recently lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized "zero day" exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated in an unauthorized fashion among former U.S. government hackers and contractors. One of the hackers provided portions of the archive to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks’s source, read its statement, offered policy questions that “urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the C.I.A.’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency.” The anonymous source, the group said, “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”
According to Wired.com, a “zero-day” vulnerability refers to a security breach in software—such as browser software or operating system software—that is unknown to the software maker or to antivirus vendors
"Year Zero," declared the WikiLeaks statement, “introduces the scope and direction of the CIA's global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of ‘zero day’ weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple's iPhone, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”
The WikiLeaks statement said that since 2001, the CIA has gained political and budgetary preeminence over the National Security Agency (NSA) and built a fleet of drones as well as a worldwide network of hackers. “The agency's hacking division freed it from having to disclose its often controversial operations to the NSA (its primary bureaucratic rival) in order to draw on the NSA's hacking capacities.”
By the end of 2016, the CIA's hacking division, which formally falls under the agency's Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI), had over 5000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other "weaponized" malware. Such is the scale of the CIA's undertaking, said the WikiLeaks statement, that by 2016, its hackers had utilized more code than that used to run Facebook. The CIA had created, in effect, its "own NSA" with even less accountability and without publicly answering the question as to whether such a massive budgetary spend on duplicating the capacities of a rival agency could be justified.
If the documents are authentic, the release could represent a serious blow to the CIA. The entire archive of CIA material is made up of several hundred million lines of computer code.
The WikiLeaks statement claims that the CIA and allied intelligence services have bypassed encryption safeguards on cellphone and and messaging services such as Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp. Government hackers, said WikiLeaks, can even penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.” The WikiLeaks release said that the program was accomplished with cooperation from the United Kingdom
WikiLeaks revealed some astounding technological feats. One hacking program, dubbed “Weeping Angel,” Samsung “smart” televisions as covert listening devices. According to WikiLeaks, the television “operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert C.I.A. server,” even if it appears to be turned off.
In 2015, Samsung appeared to acknowledged the risk the televisions posed to privacy. The fine print terms of service included with its smart TVs states that the television sets could capture background conversations, and that they could be passed on to third parties. Samsung also stated in its terms of service: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”
Another program, named Umbrage, is a huge number of cyberattack techniques that the CIA has collected from malware produced by other countries, including Russia. According to WikiLeaks, the large number of techniques allows the CIA to mask the origin of some of its cyberattacks and confuse forensic investigators.
The Vault 7 archive of CIA material appears to be as large as other similar leaks of classified material of recent years. These include the quarter-million diplomatic cables released by Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst, and given to WikiLeaks in 2010, as well as the hundreds of thousands of documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward J. Snowden and given to journalists in 2013.
Leaks of government and corporate information, such as the so-called Panama Papers, are possible because of easy downloading, storing and transferring millions of documents in seconds. The NSA and the military’s closely related Cyber Command have the greatest capacity for hacking foreign communications and computer network that can also destroy them. However, the CIA maintains a parallel program for information gathering. Last year, a set of NSA hacking techniques was either leaked from the agency or stolen. It was auctioned on the internet last year by a group known as the Shadow Brokers. The hacking tools were counted as part of the aresenal of the NSA for hacking into foreign computer networks.