WikiLeaks this week released thousands of documents that show CIA’s secret hacking tools (through a program called “Weeping Angel”) which they presumably have been using over the years to spy on you through your phones, smart TVs, cars and computers.
Named “Vault 7” by WikiLeaks, the jaw dropping leaks tell us basically that the CIA can access just about any device through the operating systems (iOS, Mac OS, Android, Windows and Linux).
Here’s what this means
While information sent over channels may enjoy end-to-end encryption as is the case with WhatsApp and other services, but access to information in the operating systems of the devices and this includes WhatsApp servers can easily defeat the encryption purpose. This then means that if the latest leak is in fact authentic, it means the CIA always had the tool(s) to bypass such encryptions without public knowledge (but they are secret so nothing they do is open) and as a former CIA director General Michael Hayden puts it, the intelligence agency was given $53b and this should rather be seen as value for muney if you leave out the civil issues arising from this. In fact WikiLeaks says, in some cases the CIA can turn a Samsung smart TV into a listening device but Hayden says such actions require judicial clearance in some cases and is not a widespread thing. The CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu says the agency won’t confirm nor deny the authenticity of the leaks in line with their practice over the years.
But expect services like Telegram that tout encryption to come out. While we await a statement from the Facebook owned WhatsApp, Telegram said the issue at heart is that of operating systems but having access to various operating systems that Telegram, Signal and WhatsApp run on cold in fact render the whole idea of encryption useless. This is because the encryption mainly applies to channels through which the messages are sent and not on individual devices which is where CIA prefers to carry out its own spying allegedly.
It is unlikely though that only the US possesses capabilities but the issue here is that the US has maintained for long that it doesn’t spy on citizens but Julian Assange (WikiLeaks founder) while holding a press conference in London says IP addresses obtained could actually prove that the US does what it says it doesn’t. He also pledged to share their findings with tech companies who manufacture the affected devices or rely on them.
While Google and Microsoft have yet to comment on the leaks, Apple however says the issue at heart in the dump may have been fixed which means this could be something Apple has known for some time. Apple released a statement saying “While our initial analysis indicates that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS, we will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities,”….”We always urge customers to download the latest iOS to make sure they have the most recent security updates.”
Samsung which relies on Google’s Android heavily says “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..”
LG in its own statement said “Digital privacy isn’t just an LG concern, it’s an industry-wide issue that needs to be tackled by everyone who has a stake in the system, which is why we are completely committed to working with other industry players to make sure that consumers are protected to the fullest extent that today’s technology will allow,”
The bigger challenge for US companies which have replied heavily in international markets to be the biggest in the world because of quality and in other cases security is that trust in these products may start to erode locally and globally. Companies like Apple have had to fight the FBI publicly over orders mandating them to unlock iPhones. The FBI in this instance found a way around it but says higher models of iPhones may indeed be difficult.
Competitors to American tech companies are already touting the security of their devices but who’s to say other governments don’t possess such capabilities. This brings to mind a saying in Nigeria that we may all be thieves but the caught one is the thief because they are labelled as such when caught and thus prosecuted as a thief.