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Wikileaks: The CIA is Spying on All Your Electronics - And it's Getting Weird

by March 16, 2017

Wikileaks recently released a set of classified CIA documents they’re calling “Year Zero”, it's just one part of a greater collection of documents code-named “Vault 7”. The Year Zero collection includes detailed information on CIA spying capabilities, many of which involve your favorite consumer electronics devices. At 8,761 pages of data, Julian Assange says that Year Zero is the largest intelligence release of its kind. And to think of all the work Boris and Natasha had to go through just to get a few measly pages of CIA secrets.

Most of us already assume the government is spying on us through our Internet-connected devices. The 2013 Wikileaks dump informed Americans that the NSA has wiretapped the entire Internet and is storing everyone’s communication at a Utah data center called PRISM.

The Year Zero leaks have exposed how far government spying has gone in recent years. It turns out that our phones, TVs, computers, game consoles and set top boxes are routinely sending information directly to the CIA. But what’s truly alarming about the most recent revelations is that it coincides with a shift in American attitudes away from concerns about privacy or checks and balances in favor of authoritarian government power. What’s interesting is that both sides of the political spectrum seem to be in agreement that the answer to our social ills lies in government authority as statistics show that fewer Americans are concerned with the government’s electronic spying. Pinstripes and acid wash jeans may be 33 years out of fashion, but it’s beginning to look a lot like 1984.

Apple’s Bid For Reason

Tim Cook AppleIt’s been a couple of years since Edward Snowden exposed documents confirming that US intelligence agencies had been seeking a backdoor into the iPhone, ever since it launched in 2007. Breaking through the Apple product’s security had been part of a top-secret cooperative intelligence program led by US and British agencies, according to the Snowden. But the intelligence agency hacking mission wasn’t limited to Apple - it extended to all mobile network communication devices on all major operating systems. The last of the Snowden documents were dated 2013, but Year Zero picks up from there - taking us through CIA activities from 2013 through 2016, where US intelligence agencies have been busy busting through our electronics in interesting ways we may have never thought possible.

The Year Zero leaks makes the FBI’s 2016 request for a backdoor into the iPhone seem quaint by comparison. In Feb 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared in an open letter to customers that Apple will take the moral high ground and refuse to cooperate with FBI requests for a backdoor into the device.

In his letter Cook said: ”The implications of the government’s demands are chilling...”. At the time, we may have dismissed Cook’s words as public grandstanding, but you’ve got to hand it to Apple. It was a controversial message to the American people in the wake of the San Bernardino tragedy in December, 2015 and Apple risked looking like a terrorist sympathizer. But to anyone who supports the intent of the US constitution to limit government power with checks and balances as a way to mitigate the tyranny, he made the right choice.

But while Cook was deflecting a possible over-the-table bridge to an iPhone backdoor, the CIA was already exploiting backdoors to iPhone and other mobile devices.

Weaponized Hacks

The FBI’s request to Apple was limited to access to data stored on a locked iPhone without destroying the device. But the CIA’s snooping capability goes much farther. According to Wikileaks, the CIA can not only browse any smartphone’s data but it can take control of your device without your knowledge, turning on or off features as needed - including microphones and cameras. Where it gets truly frightening is that these hacks techniques allow agents to take control of larger physical objects like automobiles, hospital equipment and theoretically even airplanes. The latest round of leaks is already rekindling theories around the death of author and journalist Michael Hastings in 2013.

Hastings was a critic of the Obama administration, and had just published an article on Buzzfeed entitled “Why Democrats Love Spying on Americans” when he fatally crashed his Mercedes C250 Coupe. The Vault 7 leaks may serve to legitimize existing conspiracy theories while also creating new ones, now that we know the CIA has the ability to perform assassinations by taking control of moving vehicles. And if somehow the victim survives, they can take control of life support equipment at the hospital. 

Vault 7 Footnotes

  • Weaponized HacksInvestment in the government’s digital spying network and hacking capabilities has cost taxpayers as much as hundreds of millions per-month since its inception.
  • Government spying on US citizens is a clear violation of the 4th amendment. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…
  • Samsung smart TVs have been so thoroughly hacked they can be made to appear off while hackers record information from their built-in cameras and microphones.

CIA Spying Gets Really Weird

One of of the more interesting Vault 7 leaks shows that the CIA is working on a Meme Warfare Center (MWC). The center is tasked to become experts in meme analysis and generation or in today’s vernacular - “culture hacking”. It’s the Internet version of the same mass influence game the CIA has always played in foreign nations like South and Central America to encourage uprisings in Soviet-friendly regimes. But CIA culture hacking on American soil only make sense if they’re encouraging indifference toward spying and a preference for more authoritarian government power. Creating a more docile populace through memes, the parallels to the language-propaganda exercised by the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 are stunning.

The idea of militarized memes has been around for some time, and it’s well known that these little thought cluster-bombs have far reaching influence on a given population. It’s a powerful form of mass mind control with a significant downside - once deployed the creator has little control over what influence is derived from the meme. Much academic study has gone into what makes for an influential meme, and how memes can be used to the advantage of both marketing and political circles.

The very thought of the CIA creating Pepe the Frog memes to “culture hack” America would be funny if the prospect weren’t so scary. And it’s that cultural influence that may prove to be a critical piece to these Vault 7 revelations.

Make America Complacent Again

Complacent AmericaPew Research data shows that Americans today have a considerably high tolerance for government snooping into their private lives. Soon after the first round of Wikileaks were published, Pew found that almost half of Americans don’t care about the government spying on them.

52% described themselves as “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about government surveillance of Americans’ data and electronic communications, compared with 46% who described themselves as “not very concerned” or “not at all concerned” about the surveillance.”

Today’s so-called Internet generation has come of age and growing into the roles of influencers and decision makers in America. It’s no surprise that Millennials are significantly more progressive than previous generations. Polls from both YouGov and the American National Election Studies indicate that the young adult population of today has an overall favorable view of government solutions to what it believes ails society - even where it means sacrificing basic freedoms guaranteed in the constitution. The belief in a government-run utopia is catching on.

Even more alarming is a 2015 Pew Research study that shows a shocking 40% of millennials are okay sacrificing First Amendment rights to free speech, if that speech might be deemed offensive to minorities. It’s social justice through the government’s monopoly on violence - it doesn’t get more progressive than this!

Are we witnessing a successful government “culture hacking” program?

Willingly ceding rights or checks and balances for governmental power is presently a bipartisan problem that exists on both sides of the left/right divide. The political left doesn’t mind giving up rights for progressive ends while the right tries to take the Executive Order a running leap closer to authoritarianism. The US Constitution was written knowing that government will naturally find a way to push its people to sacrifice their personal freedom. The privacy of a nation’s people is a strong indicator of a people’s liberty.

You may count yourself among the unconcerned about government spying because you’re doing nothing wrong. But consider that the information being collected on you is being parsed by algorithms seeking the patterns that speak to the threats of today, the it’s being stored - forever. This data on you can be used as evidence for the threats of tomorrow.

Today we justify government intrusion because they’re fighting a war on terror. Tomorrow we may justify sacrifices to freedom because they’re fighting bigotry. How long before we sacrifice more freedom because the government is fighting a righteous war on heretics and unbelievers?

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About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

Allen Powers posts on March 27, 2017 12:36
Wikileaks is an arm of the Russian intelligence service. I trust them about as much as I do Vladimir Putin. Every single intelligence agency from every single country is up to no good, it's what they do. Wikileaks LOVES to single out the United States and their intelligence programs at the benefit of Russia.
Wayde Robson posts on March 17, 2017 08:21
Bucknekked, post: 1177920, member: 81008
You thought spying on electronics was weird this morning?

Not the spying per-se. The part I thought was weird was the culture hacking. The idea the CIA has a team of agents studying Peppe the Frog and cute animal pictures with words over top of them trying to discern how this cultural power can be harnessed for its purposes.
Bucknekked posts on March 16, 2017 20:58
gene, post: 1177740, member: 4348
the CIA now has access to weaponized hacks on any Internet connected machinery or vehicle with electronic controls.

Read: Wikileaks: The CIA is Spying on All Your Electronics - And it's Getting Weird

You thought spying on electronics was weird this morning? I think things just turn a decidedly weird turn this evening that makes this morning pale by comparison. Just think of what weaponized attacks could be launched against these “smart devices”.

Sex Toy Spying On Owners

One has to ask the question : at what point does a device cry out so loudly that you're going to get spied on that you have to be a total moron to buy it? An internet linked sex toy? I'm thinking we've reached some sort of new low here.
Bucknekked posts on March 16, 2017 13:43
BoredSysAdmin, post: 1177769, member: 28046
Potential Mission Areas for EDB (Embedded Devices Branch)
  • Firmware Targets
  • Internet of Things (e.g. Weeping Angel (Extending) Engineering Notes )
  • Vehicle Systems (e.g. VSEP)
  • ICS/SCADA
  • Network Devices (including but not limited to SOHO routers)
  • EFI
    Software Targets
    • Linux/Unix
      BSD
    • Solaris
    • VxWorks - not addressed by any EDB work
    • QNX - not addressed by any EDB work, big player in VSEP
BSA
Any post that includes a John Oliver video is a good post. I love that guy. He's like Lewis Black, but with a better accent.

On the topic of the CIA and weaponized tools: I am definitely of two minds. I expect the spooks who work for the U.S. Govt. to be building and arming for the next type of war : a cyber war or one fought inside computers, networks and smart devices of all kinds. They better be not only preparing tools to fight such a war, they better be playing to win because its a sure thing every other large entity with a budget is preparing to do the same. Defensive tools might also be handy.

The other side of that coin is the fear side : fear that the spooks will use those tools against you and I or anyone they deem worthy of a snoop or an interruption. That's not tin foil hats fear of things that have no merit, I think that's a legitimate fear given the track record of unsupervised groups with little or no oversite.

Knowing that a conflict will come with another nation or organized group, which would I rather see? A government unprepared (no tools, no countermeasures, no clue?) to deal with it or one that has the tools and could possibly misuse them on me. I would go for the prepared, locked and loaded approach and then use public policy and the rule of law to keep the spooks in line as much as we can.

The most disturbing thing to me about the Wikileaks disclosures about the CIA isn't the tools, or the targets, or even their current abilities. The most disturbing thing to me is that in 2017 after as many hacks and leaks as they've had, they CONTINUE to get hacked and leaked. This is one of our best secret groups. And they can't keep a secret a secret. That's what I find most disturbing. If they can't keep a secret, how can you or I protect our privacy?
lovinthehd posts on March 16, 2017 08:51
MR.MAGOO, post: 1177748, member: 77706
“Wikileaks recently released a set of classified CIA documents…”

how did wikileaks get a hold of classified documents to begin with?
Was some speculation could have been via a contractor.
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