Tags: wikileaks | cia | hack | weeping angel | samsung tv | whatsapp

What the WikiLeaks CIA Hack Means for You

What the WikiLeaks CIA Hack Means for You
Julian Assange, founder of the online leaking platform WikiLeaks, during a press conference on the platform's 10th anniversary on October 4, 2016, in Berlin. (Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty Images)

By Thursday, 16 March 2017 04:58 PM Current | Bio | Archive

There’s talk of Russia and WikiLeaks collusion with the Trump campaign, and the various journeys of Trump’s executive orders (and even cabinet appointees) have started to make the paths of migratory birds look lazy. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder WikiLeaks releases 8,761 pages of secret CIA documents.

First, bear in mind that the CIA has not said whether or not the documents are real. So, we’re talking about alleged CIA dirt here.

It is certainly of interest to spy-watchers that this attack coincides with Trump declaring war on the intelligence community, and that the information’s journey from CIA headquarters to the WikiLeaks website required only one person with access to help out. Never mind the politics that almost certainly underlie the leak. What does it mean to you?

First of all, as a few excellent commentaries have pointed out, the tweets that WikiLeaks sent out after the data dump were not accurate, or at best if you wanted to argue otherwise they were wildly inaccurate. The main claim, that the CIA had bypassed the end-to-end encryption methods employed by WhatsApp and Signal, two popular secure chat software applications, is erroneous.

Do you need to worry about encrypted chats?

The short answer is: Probably not.

Looking for a way to explain the misunderstanding with regard to the leaked CIA documents, I was reminded of a medical treatment in the field of oncology.

There have been experimental cancer treatments that have had excellent results, but they are expensive. Immunotherapy in particular comes to mind. It trains the immune system how to recognize and attack cancer cells, but it is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Every individual presents a different immunological situation, and each case needs a custom treatment.

If time were money, the supposed CIA “bypass” of the encryption used by Signal and WhatsApp would be similar to the quandary of immunotherapy, but in this instance welcome news. What the CIA managed to do was bypass the security of smartphones made by Samsung and Apple.

There is no master switch or hack that allows them to swim in the data torrents flowing through Signal and WhatsApp. Rather, the CIA has acquired the ability to break into a unique phone and use it, which would include the apps on that phone. If the phone has the WhatsApp or Signal app, those apps would be bypassed. Sort of. But really? Not at all. The fact is they would just be looking at the WhatsApp or Signal and the messages on the account in the unique phone that they accessed.

Exhibit 229,934 as to why fake news often is better termed shoddy journalism.

What about the eavesdropping tools?

The material that WikiLeaks released describes different exploits, or hacking methods, devised by the CIA to take advantage of software flaws in some everyday devices, and that should be alarming to everyone.

Some of the devices that have been hacked, again according to what is still only alleged to be CIA back office spy recipes, include iPhones, Android phones, Samsung Smart TVs, Skype, WiFi routers and anti-virus software.

"If the CIA can hack these phones then so can everyone else," WikiLeaks said in a press release. “Everyone else” here is not just the hacker community, but other nation states. Just as with the immunotherapy treatments, this time-consuming approach seems like it is not terribly well suited to snooping on your private life. That said, it is perfect for listening in on a conversation happening at the president’s table at his weekend White House known as Mar-a-Lago.

The weeping angels from Doctor Who are pretty terrifying. They are angel sculptures that move every time you blink, getting closer and closer until — no longer able to keep your eyes open — you blink a final time and they kill you. According to the CIA documents, there was a program developed in conjunction with the UK called “Weeping Angel” that allowed a technician to remotely turn on the microphone in a Samsung Smart TV and listen, and it didn’t matter if the television was on or not.

There was other information about the alleged CIA hacking capabilities that included remote methods for taking control of Samsung Galaxy and Nexus phones and Samsung Tab tablets (the president uses a Samsung Galaxy), that might allow a hacker to remotely turn on the phone’s microphone. These exploits were largely dependent on malware embedded on websites.

What should you do?

Chances are pretty good that you are using something from this list. So, how do you know the government isn’t listening to you?

While it’s true that one can be too paranoid about this sort of thing, you really should be a little paranoid. Don’t assume that because your house doesn’t contain a big stash of weapons, or you don’t belong to a sleeper cell, or your attic is not filled to the rafters with a controlled substance that you are not in danger of snoops.

We are all in danger, all the time. The alleged documents are now public, which means that any hacker with any agenda could use them.

  1. Be careful about your Internet travels. Many of the exploits detailed in the documents travel via malware that is embedded on websites.
  2. Power off your phone if you are worried about someone using it as a listening device.
  3. Unplug your Smart TV if you want to be sure the microphone isn’t hot.

Finally, go on living your life, because all of this was already happening before this latest news broke, and for the majority of us, it is nothing more than a creepy fact of life. But be careful. Your privacy has never been more endangered than it is right now.

Adam K. Levin is a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and is a nationally recognized expert on security, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. A former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Levin is chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. Levin is the author of Amazon Best Seller "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves." Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.

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Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder WikiLeaks releases 8,761 pages of secret CIA documents.
wikileaks, cia, hack, weeping angel, samsung tv, whatsapp
Thursday, 16 March 2017 04:58 PM
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