WikiLeaks Claims CIA Has Been Spying on Americans By Turning Smart Devices Into ‘Covert Microphones’

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In its release, WikiLeaks claims that the CIA had tools to spy on consumers through devices like TV and smartphones. Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP.

A federal criminal investigation has been opened following the release of several top-secret documents detailing the CIA’s alleged hacking strategies by hacker organization WikiLeaks, U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday, March 8.

The investigation, a coordinated effort by the FBI and CIA, will look into how WikiLeaks got its hands on the classified documents in the first place and whether they might have been leaked by an employee or contractor, according to CNN. The CIA also is working to figure out if the hacker group has any other unpublished documents in its possession.

So far, officials have confirmed that the majority of the documents appear to be genuine, though they’re still unsure if ALL of them are real and whether some of them have been doctored. The federal government’s main concern is WikiLeaks potentially publishing crucial computer codes on how agency operations are run, giving other hackers the opportunity to steal it and cause chaos overseas.

WikiLeaks published a trove of sensitive CIA documents late Monday, March 3, exposing an arsenal of hacking techniques that can reportedly turn devices like Apple and Android smartphones, TVs and even computers into covert listening devices — even when they’re turned off. The revelation sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley tech companies, which have been working to repair public trust with consumers after former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed NSA spying and collusion between the government and Internet and phone companies used by millions of Americans, USA Today reported.

In its leaked documents, WikiLeaks wrote that “‘Year Zero’ 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.”

Tech giants Microsoft, Google and WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, haven’t issued a formal response but say they’re looking into the matter. On Tuesday, Apple released a statement assuring consumers “that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS, [but] we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities.”

“Apple is deeply committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy and security,” the company said. “The technology built into today’s iPhone represents the best data security available to consumers, and we’re constantly working to keep it that way.”

Samsung also released a statement on the hacker organization’s claim that the CIA had tools to turn its products into “covert microphones,” telling Buzzfeed News, “Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung.

“We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter,” the tech company said.

Other claims made in the report assert that:

  • The CIA regularly used techniques that enabled its hackers to appear as if they were Russian.
  • Almost all of the CIA’s arsenal of anti-privacy cyberweapons had been stolen and ended up in the hands of “former U.S. government hackers and contractors” who then leaked the documents to WikiLeaks.
  • Hackers have lists of specific information like geolocation data, user identification information, counter-intelligence, pattern of life and return information, among others.
  • The agency has tools designed to hack/infiltrate network routers.
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