How the CIA’s hacking hoard makes everyone less secure

Andy Greenberg writes: When Wikileaks yesterday released a trove of documents purporting to show how the CIA hacks everything from smartphones to PCs to smart televisions, the agency’s already shadowy reputation gained a new dimension. But if you’re an average American, rather than Edward Snowden or an ISIS jihadi, the real danger clarified by that leak wasn’t that someone in Langley is watching you through your hotel room’s TV. It’s the rest of the hacker world that the CIA has inadvertently empowered.

As security researchers and policy analysts dig through the latest WikiLeaks documents, the sheer number of hacking tools the CIA has apparently hoarded for exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities—secret inroads that tech firms haven’t patched—stands out most. If the US intelligence community knows about them, that leaves open the possibility that criminal and foreign state hackers do as well.

Its broad zero-day stash, then, strongly suggests that the CIA—along with other intelligence agencies—has long allowed Americans to remain vulnerable to those same attacks. Now that those hacking secrets are public, potentially along with enough details to replicate them, the danger of the feds leaving major security flaws unfixed only escalates.

“If the CIA can use it, so can the Russians, or the Chinese or organized crime,” says Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “The lesson here, first off, is that stockpiling a bunch of vulnerabilities is bad for cybersecurity. And two, it means they’re likely going to get leaked by someone.”

It’s no surprise, of course, that one of America’s most well-resourced spy agencies can hack its foreign adversaries. The shock, says Johns Hopkins cryptographer Matt Green, comes instead from the sudden spill of those hacking tools onto the web. “In the same way the military would probably have one technique for killing every single tank in an enemy’s arsenal, you would expect the CIA to collect the same thing,” says Green. “What’s different is that we’re seeing them out in public.”

In fact, WikiLeaks wrote in a note accompanying its Tuesday release that “the archive appears to have been circulated among former US government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner.” That raises the possibility the full document set, along with actual exploit details or code, may have fallen into the hands of hackers long before it was published in part by WikiLeaks. [Continue reading…]

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Comments

  1. What’s truly frightening is that the CIA apparently can’t take care of itself, at the most basic level.

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