So now Alexa says she doesn't work for the CIA... but... pic.twitter.com/ESzElchRRn— Miss Bunny Mickley 💜 (@bunnyhalberd) March 10, 2017
When Kellyanne Conway told the nation that spies could use microwaves as cameras, we all laughed — and rightly so. But her comments weren't coming just from hearsay.
Conway had been reading reports on the leaks proving that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has had the ability to tamper with a series of consumer products for quite some time. While she may have freelanced when she threw the kitchen appliance in the mix, she wasn't entirely far off as to how common Americans can be the target of warrantless government spying.
In 2013, when former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the federal agency carried a series of unconstitutional programs capable of tapping into the phones and computers of countless innocent Americans, many accused the whistleblower of acting out of self-interest. “He stole information … and must face the music,” many politicians charged.
But before Snowden, others had already blown the whistle on both the NSA and the CIA for illegal actions committed by the two agencies. And just like Snowden, they too suffered a great deal of backlash. But still, they were never proved wrong.
So, while we must always take what President Donald Trump's adviser says with a grain of salt, it's important to look at this new batch of information released by WikiLeaks and remember that the CIA has a history of carrying programs that aren't all that morally sound.
These “holes” in software are often unknown to vendors and they offer hackers — or government spies — “backdoors” to certain technologies.
As you can imagine, this negligence may serve the CIA's alleged shadow operations, giving the agency access to technologies so they may “infect [devices] with malware or spyware, or gain access to personal information,” Rolling Stone reports.
Additionally, the latest WikiLeaks' dump also showed that the agency's abilities to manipulate software flaws allow officials to hack into iPhones, Android devices, Skype, Wi-Fi networks, and yes, even Samsung smart TVs.
According to Rolling Stone, the CIA's capabilities go beyond, giving officials the power to “hack into devices remotely and activate cameras and microphones so they can keep tabs on a person's location and private messages.”
But while the documents are scary, painting a picture that sure does look a lot like George Orwell's 1984, it does not provide evidence that the agency engages in this activity on a daily basis. It does, however, show that the CIA has cooperated with the United Kingdom intelligence services in a program called “Weeping Angel,” which allowed them to access Samsung TVs and record the devices' surroundings even while the television appeared to be off.
WikiLeaks says that this first document dump might not be the last, so we might end up learning further details as the group releases more files. But even as the CIA denies that it can spy on the American populace without proper court authorization, it's clear that other agencies such as the NSA didn't let any legal hurdles get in their way before.
So should we worry about CIA's capabilities? Very much so.
After all, they expose us not only to government abuse — another issue brought up after Snowden's revelations were made public — but also to hackers, foreign governments, and other malicious parties that could cause us a great deal of harm.
As noted by WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, this document dump was only made possible because the CIA lost control of its hacking tools in the first place. What does that mean? That other individuals and organizations may know exactly how to explore the “zero-day” vulnerabilities. And who ends up getting harmed? Anyone with consumer tech in their pockets.
Allowing an agency with so much power to conduct covert operations such as this has consequences. As this CIA document dump shows, we might not be willing to pay the price.
Thumbnail image credit: Reuters