(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The floor of the main lobby of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Central Intelligence Agency has maintained a wide arrange of exploits to hack into smartphones and other connected devices, according to a trove of nearly 9,000 government documents released by WikiLeaks Tuesday. The documents also detail how the government has allegedly hacked into smart TV’s, in particular those made by Samsung.
But in the hours since the documents were made available, a common misconception of the leak is that the security of encrypted messaging apps, many of which have grown in popularity during the past six months, has been compromised. This includes the open-source Signal protocol as well as Facebook’s WhatsApp, the two leading apps for secure, end-to-end encrypted communication. In fact, the documents published by WikiLeaks suggest that the hacking tools allow the government to bypass the apps entirely, “collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.” The key distinction means that the strength of the messaging apps themselves is not the issue at hand, but rather the vulnerability of a vast array of operating systems, including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, which power nearly every connected device we rely on.
The document dump marks the latest coup for the controversial WikiLeaks site, which found itself at the center of a political war last year for its role in releasing thousands of emails sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server during her time as secretary of state. WikiLeaks has also been accused of aiding covert Russian intelligence efforts to undermine the latest U.S. presidential election, and came under fire recently for publishing documents without first redacting sensitive information that critics argue is not pertinent to the broader privacy and civil liberties issues at stake.
In a statement Tuesday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange likened the CIA’s amassing of spying tools to the global arms trade. “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’. Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade, Assange said, adding that the disclosure is “also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”