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Q&A-What do I need to know about the CIA's hacking program?
March 7, 2017 / 11:27 PM / 8 months ago

Q&A-What do I need to know about the CIA's hacking program?

    March 8 (Reuters) - WikiLeaks, the website that specializes
in exposing secrets, released thousands of documents that
described internal U.S. Central Intelligence Agency discussions
on hacking techniques it  used between 2013 and 2016 to
circumvent security on electronic devices for spying.
    U.S. officials said on Wednesday that CIA contractors were
the likely source of the leak.             
    The following are some questions and answers users of
consumer electronics may have:
    Q: How many of the vulnerabilities described in the
Wikileaks document are still open to exploit by hackers or
    A: There is no definitive answer in the documents, which
describe attack techniques but often do not give enough detail
for even the device and software vendors to understand fully how
their products were targeted and close the security holes.
    Software updates have solved many of the flaws but it is
unclear how many remain. In a chart of exploits for Apple’s
iPhone, the most recent version listed as hackable was iOS 9.2,
which was released in late 2015.

    Q: What did we learn about the CIA's hacking program?
    A. WikiLeaks published documents that it says describe CIA
tools for hacking into devices including mobile phones,
computers and smart televisions.
    Q: How can you hack a TV?
    A: WikiLeaks said it identified a project known as Weeping
Angel where U.S. and British intelligence agencies developed
ways to take over Samsung smart TVs equipped with microphones,
forcing them to record conversations when the device appeared to
be turned off. Experts have long said smart TVs and other
Internet-connected devices can be exploited to monitor a target.
    Q: Are these revelations new?
    A: While the specific details are new, it is well known in
the cyber security community that intelligence agencies are
constantly trying to leverage flaws in technology products to
conduct espionage.

    Q: The documents suggest that the CIA can access information
in encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal. I thought
they were safe from even government spying?
    A: No system is perfect. The documents describe ways to get
information in those apps on Android devices, but only after
gaining full control of those phones. Reuters has not found
evidence in the documents released by WikiLeaks that the CIA had
figured a way to break the encryption in those apps.
    Q: Are iPhones also vulnerable?
    A: The documents discuss ways to get into iPhones as well.
One appeared to show a list of Apple iOS security flaws
purchased by U.S. intelligence agencies so they could gain
access to those devices.
    Q: What should I do if I'm worried?
    A: Most people do not need to worry about being targeted by
intelligence agencies. But everybody should stay on top of
software patches so all their computers, mobile phones and other
connected devices are running software with the latest security
updates. Consumers should balance security concerns with their
need to use smart devices.
    Q: What did we learn about how the CIA may try to make
American hacking look like the work of hackers from other
countries like Russia? 
    A: The CIA has a library of attack code taken from multiple
sources and sorted by function, including a program from a
Russian criminal kit that permits spyware to survive rebooting
and a data-destruction tool lifted from a suspected Iranian
operation. One purpose of such a collection is to avoid having
to write programs from scratch, while another is to confuse
anyone who discovers the malware in action.
    The documents released so far do not show that the CIA set
out to deceive victims into believing they had been hacked by
someone else, but it suggests that the agency was capable of
doing so if it wanted. 
    Q: Is this as big as the leaks from former National Security
Agency contractor Edward Snowden?
    A: The Snowden leaks revealed that the NSA was secretly
collecting U.S. call metadata on ordinary Americans. The
materials released by WikiLeaks on Tuesday did not appear to
reveal the existence of unknown any unknown programs. Instead
they supplied details on how U.S. intelligence agencies work to
discover and exploit security flaws to conduct espionage. 
    Q: How damaging is this revelation to U.S. intelligence?
    A: U.S. intelligence officials say the damage is limited
because much of what was published is old, a number of the
vulnerabilities in smart TVs and other devices have been known
for at least two years and many have been patched. The breach  
was discovered late last year according to U.S. officials and
most or all of the tools Wikileaks published are no longer in
    In addition, they said, unless additional codes that would
enable users to exploit the leaked material are also published,
it would be difficult for other countries, groups, or people to
use the leaked material against the United States or its allies.
    Q: Are the documents authentic?
    A: Reuters could not immediately verify the contents of the
published documents. U.S. officials told Reuters that they
believe the documents are authentic. While the CIA has declined
to comment, independent cyber security experts and former
intelligence agency employees who have looked through them say
that they appear to be authentic, citing code words used to
describe CIA hacking programs.
    Q: How did WikiLeaks get the information?
    A: Unclear. Someone inside the agency may have leaked the
information. Or, someone outside may have figured out a way to
steal it. U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday that
contractors were the likely source for the leak.
    Q: What has the U.S. government and other governments said
in response?
    A: The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump was
"extremely concerned" about the CIA security breach that led to
the WikiLeaks release.
    Germany's chief federal prosecutor's office said it would
review the Wikileaks documents which suggest the CIA ran a
hacking hub from the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt, and would
launch a formal investigation if warranted.

 (Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston, Jonathan Weber in San
Francisco and Dustin Volz in Washington; editing by Grant

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