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Wikileaks' Vault 7: 6 programs used by the CIA to spy on its citizens

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 8 March 2017, 17:37 IST
(File photo)

The Central Intelligence Agency likes to function secretively, but evidently cannot keep its own secrets. On Tuesday, 7 March, the agency received a wake up call from Wikileaks, as the whistleblower organisation dumped nearly 9,000 pages of leaked CIA documents into the public domain.

The leaks have been codenamed Vault 7 and are the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency". The first of the series is dubbed Year Zero. This series contains 8,761 files.

These documents reveal overt mass surveillance programs that undermine the encryption in many internet-enabled devices. These range from Android smartphones, iPhones, Samsung smart TVs and popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal. The CIA's spying doesn't even spare anti-virus software.

According to the leaked documents, the CIA's surveillance capabilities include recording sounds, images and the private text messages of unsuspecting users.

The documents also described malware attacks sent by the CIA to users using Windows, Mac OS and Linux operating systems. These malware attacks were inserted to survey users. Similar to previous Wikileaks' offerings, especially the one in 2013, this one is loaded with classified bizarre names that are supposedly in use by the CIA.

Edward Snowden, arguably the most famous whistleblower of all time, took to Twitter to say that the files are the first public evidence that the United States government has been secretly buying sophisticated software to exploit technology.

Here are just a few of the cyberspying programs:

  1. Cutthroat and Swindle: This is part of CIA's Hive “malware suite”. It targets users on Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems and even MikroTik internet routers. This helps establish communications with the infected systems.
  2. Brutal Kangaroo: Malware. This malware infiltrates Windows computers, infecting the disk drive. Some of this malware is hidden in .jpeg and other image files.
  3. Fine Dining: Includes a list of 24 'decoy applications' used by the CIA to infect a computer and collect data and does so in the background. For example, while a computer is running a video application, the software can run in the background simultaneously infiltrating it.
  4. HammerDrill: Compromises Windows systems. It does this by infiltrating software from CDs and DVDs.
  5. HarpyEagle: CIA's program to find ways to access file systems of Apple AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule routers.
  6. Weeping Angel: Probably the most surprising of the lot, this program specifically targets Samsung Smart TVs. “After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on, In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server," according to Wikileaks.
First published: 8 March 2017, 17:37 IST
 
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.

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