WikiLeaks claims the CIA worked with UK intelligence officials to turn microphones in TVs into listening devices – even when they’re switched off.
Samsung smart TVs have microphones so viewers can make voice commands, such as requests for movie recommendations. If the TV is switched off, the viewer would assume that no listening is being done.
But WikiLeaks claims that documents it obtained show that through a program called “Weeping Angel”, the target TV appears to be off when it is actually on — and listening.
WikiLeaks claims the audio goes to a covert CIA server rather than a party authorized by Samsung. In such cases, audio isn’t limited to TV commands but could include everyday conversations.
The revelation was part of thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks overnight, as part of a series of leaks known as “Vault 7”.
The documents are described as secret files about CIA hacking tools the government employs to break into devices used by the public.
The documents describe clandestine methods for bypassing or defeating encryption, antivirus tools and other protective security features intended to keep the private information of citizens and corporations safe from prying eyes.
US government employees, including President Donald Trump, use many of the same products and internet services purportedly compromised by the tools.
The documents describe CIA efforts — cooperating with friendly foreign governments and the US National Security Agency — to subvert the world’s most popular technology platforms, including Apple’s iPhones and iPads, Google’s Android phones and the Microsoft Windows operating system for desktop computers and laptops.
WikiLeaks has a long track record of releasing top secret government documents, and experts who sifted through the material said it appeared legitimate.
Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, said: “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents”. White House spokesman Sean Spicer also declined comment.
Missing from WikiLeaks’ trove are the actual hacking tools themselves, some of which were developed by government hackers while others were purchased from outsiders.
WikiLeaks said it planned to avoid distributing tools “until a consensus emerges” on the political nature of the CIA’s program and how such software could be analyzed, disarmed and published.
Tuesday’s disclosure left anxious consumers who use the products with little recourse, since repairing the software vulnerabilities in ways that might block the tools’ effectiveness is the responsibility of leading technology companies.
The revelations threatened to upend confidence in an Obama-era government program, the Vulnerability Equities Process, under which federal agencies warn technology companies about weaknesses in their software so they can be quickly fixed.
It was not immediately clear how WikiLeaks obtained the information, and details in the documents could not immediately be verified.
WikiLeaks said the material came from “an isolated, high-security network” inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence but didn’t say whether the files were removed by a rogue employee or perhaps involved hacking a federal contractor working for the CIA or breaking into a staging server where such information might have been temporarily stored.
“The archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.
The tools described in the documents carried bizarre names, including Time Stomper, Fight Club, Jukebox, Bartender, Wild Turkey, Margarita and “RickyBobby,” a racecar-driving character in the comedy film, Talladega Nights.
That RickyBobby tool, the documents said, was intended to plant and harvest files on computers running “newer versions of Microsoft Windows and Windows Server.”
It operated “as a lightweight implant for target computers” without raising warnings from antivirus or intrusion-detection software.
It took advantage of files Microsoft built into Windows since at least 10 years ago.
The files include comments by CIA hackers boasting in slang language of their prowess: “You know we got the dankest Trojans and collection tools,” one reads.
The documents show broad exchanges of tools and information among the CIA, NSA and other US intelligence agencies, as well as intelligence services of close allies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
WikiLeaks claimed the CIA used both its Langley and Virginia headquarters and the US consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, as bases for covert hackers.
In an unusual move, WikiLeaks said it was withholding some secrets inside the documents. Among them, it said it had withheld details of tens of thousands of “CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States.”
WikiLeaks also said its data included a “substantial library” of digital espionage techniques borrowed from other countries, including Russia.
If the authenticity of the documents is officially confirmed, it would represent yet another catastrophic breach for the US intelligence community at the hands of WikiLeaks and its allies, which have repeatedly humbled Washington with the mass release of classified material, including from the State Department and the Pentagon.