WikiLeaks reveals CIA’s global covert hacking program targeting Apple iPhone, Google Android, Microsoft Windows and even Samsung TVs

Today, Tuesday 7 March 2017, WikiLeaks begins its new series of leaks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Code-named “Vault 7” by WikiLeaks, it is the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.

The first full part of the series, “Year Zero”, comprises 8,761 documents and files from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virgina. It follows an introductory disclosure last month of CIA targeting French political parties and candidates in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election.

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

“Year Zero” introduces the scope and direction of the CIA’s global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of “zero day” weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.

Since 2001 the CIA has gained political and budgetary preeminence over the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The CIA found itself building not just its now infamous drone fleet, but a very different type of covert, globe-spanning force — its own substantial fleet of hackers. The agency’s hacking division freed it from having to disclose its often controversial operations to the NSA (its primary bureaucratic rival) in order to draw on the NSA’s hacking capacities.

By the end of 2016, the CIA’s hacking division, which formally falls under the agency’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI), had over 5000 registered users and had produced more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses, and other “weaponized” malware. Such is the scale of the CIA’s undertaking that by 2016, its hackers had utilized more code than that used to run Facebook. The CIA had created, in effect, its “own NSA” with even less accountability and without publicly answering the question as to whether such a massive budgetary spend on duplicating the capacities of a rival agency could be justified.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Once a single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world in seconds, to be used by rival states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor stated that “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’. Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. But the significance of “Year Zero” goes well beyond the choice between cyberwar and cyberpeace. The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”

Wikileaks has carefully reviewed the “Year Zero” disclosure and published substantive CIA documentation while avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should analyzed, disarmed and published.

Wikileaks has also decided to redact and anonymise some identifying information in “Year Zero” for in depth analysis. These redactions include ten of thousands of CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States. While we are aware of the imperfect results of any approach chosen, we remain committed to our publishing model and note that the quantity of published pages in “Vault 7” part one (“Year Zero”) already eclipses the total number of pages published over the first three years of the Edward Snowden NSA leaks.

CIA malware targets iPhone, Android, smart TVs

CIA malware and hacking tools are built by EDG (Engineering Development Group), a software development group within CCI (Center for Cyber Intelligence), a department belonging to the CIA’s DDI (Directorate for Digital Innovation). The DDI is one of the five major directorates of the CIA (see this organizational chart of the CIA for more details).

The EDG is responsible for the development, testing and operational support of all backdoors, exploits, malicious payloads, trojans, viruses and any other kind of malware used by the CIA in its covert operations world-wide.

The increasing sophistication of surveillance techniques has drawn comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984, but “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones, is surely its most emblematic realization.

The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s MI5/BTSS. 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.

As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks. The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.

The CIA’s Mobile Devices Branch (MDB) developed numerous attacks to remotely hack and control popular smart phones. Infected phones can be instructed to send the CIA the user’s geolocation, audio and text communications as well as covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone.

Despite iPhone’s minority share (14.5%) of the global smart phone market in 2016, a specialized unit in the CIA’s Mobile Development Branch produces malware to infest, control and exfiltrate data from iPhones and other Apple products running iOS, such as iPads. CIA’s arsenal includes numerous local and remote “zero days” developed by CIA or obtained from GCHQ, NSA, FBI or purchased from cyber arms contractors such as Baitshop. The disproportionate focus on iOS may be explained by the popularity of the iPhone among social, political, diplomatic and business elites.

A similar unit targets Google’s Android which is used to run the majority of the world’s smart phones (~85%) including Samsung, HTC and Sony. 1.15 billion Android powered phones were sold last year. “Year Zero” shows that as of 2016 the CIA had 24 “weaponized” Android “zero days” which it has developed itself and obtained from GCHQ, NSA and cyber arms contractors.

These techniques permit the CIA to bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman by hacking the “smart” phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.

CIA malware targets Windows, OS X, Linux, routers

The CIA also runs a very substantial effort to infect and control Microsoft Windows users with its malware. This includes multiple local and remote weaponized “zero days”, air gap jumping viruses such as “Hammer Drill” which infects software distributed on CD/DVDs, infectors for removable media such as USBs, systems to hide data in images or in covert disk areas (“Brutal Kangaroo”) and to keep its malware infestations going.

Many of these infection efforts are pulled together by the CIA’s Automated Implant Branch (AIB), which has developed several attack systems for automated infestation and control of CIA malware, such as “Assassin” and “Medusa”.

Attacks against Internet infrastructure and webservers are developed by the CIA’s Network Devices Branch (NDB).

The CIA has developed automated multi-platform malware attack and control systems covering Windows, Mac OS X, Solaris, Linux and more, such as EDB’s “HIVE” and the related “Cutthroat” and “Swindle” tools, which are described in the full press release.

CIA ‘hoarded’ vulnerabilities (“zero days”)

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA, the U.S. technology industry secured a commitment from the Obama administration that the executive would disclose on an ongoing basis — rather than hoard — serious vulnerabilities, exploits, bugs or “zero days” to Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other US-based manufacturers.

Serious vulnerabilities not disclosed to the manufacturers places huge swathes of the population and critical infrastructure at risk to foreign intelligence or cyber criminals who independently discover or hear rumors of the vulnerability. If the CIA can discover such vulnerabilities so can others.

The U.S. government’s commitment to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process came after significant lobbying by US technology companies, who risk losing their share of the global market over real and perceived hidden vulnerabilities. The government stated that it would disclose all pervasive vulnerabilities discovered after 2010 on an ongoing basis.

“Year Zero” documents show that the CIA breached the Obama administration’s commitments. Many of the vulnerabilities used in the CIA’s cyber arsenal are pervasive and some may already have been found by rival intelligence agencies or cyber criminals.

As an example, specific CIA malware revealed in “Year Zero” is able to penetrate, infest and control both the Android phone and iPhone software that runs or has run presidential Twitter accounts. The CIA attacks this software by using undisclosed security vulnerabilities (“zero days”) possessed by the CIA but if the CIA can hack these phones then so can everyone else who has obtained or discovered the vulnerability. As long as the CIA keeps these vulnerabilities concealed from Apple and Google (who make the phones) they will not be fixed, and the phones will remain hackable.

The same vulnerabilities exist for the population at large, including the U.S. Cabinet, Congress, top CEOs, system administrators, security officers and engineers. By hiding these security flaws from manufacturers like Apple and Google the CIA ensures that it can hack everyone &mdsh; at the expense of leaving everyone hackable.

Why now?

WikiLeaks published as soon as its verification and analysis were ready.

In Febuary, the Trump administration has issued an Executive Order calling for a “Cyberwar” review to be prepared within 30 days.

While the review increases the timeliness and relevance of the publication it did not play a role in setting the publication date.

Read more in the full release here.

MacDailyNews Take: Holy revelatory leakfest, Batman! Hopefully, this WikiLeaks trove leads Apple to quickly identify and close up a bunch of “Zero Days” and other macOS and iOS vulnerabilities!

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz,” “botvinnik,” and “Road Warrior” for the heads up.]


  1. Poor Comey…nobody tells the FBI anything. Kinda makes nonsense of the idea that Apple should enable a backdoor for law enforcement.
    The CIA is plainly outta control and completely ‘dark’ with zero effective oversight in place. Then there’s the criminality involved. So many questions.

  2. A government hacking into companies belonging to their own country, so that they can spy and hack. Wonderfully done, this is what happens when a nation loses any and all concepts of ethics or morality.

    I’m sure there will be lots of reporting on this, after all have to satisfy the needs of this attention whore nation.

  3. We need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about any of this. Remember it took 18 months to fully vet Snowden’s information and it was more than 10% was false. Not saying that’s a good thing, but Wikileaks has a tendency to have a loose interpretation of verified information and we need to go through all of it and see if what it alleged is true. If the CIA did ignore the executive and congressional directed oversight, then that is a real problem, however if there is a provision in the patriot act or other law that allows this? Then that’s even worse. So let’s pump the breaks and get the info before catching our hair on fire. On the other hand, if this is a dark program that can basically operate with impunity outside of oversight, then this is a tremend9us breech of national security, and there have abeen a very valid reason for its existence. We simply don’t know. As a defense attorney this is what I would ask in subpoena, and under cross from any witness, we need to apply the same standard to this information and not just take the data dump at its word.

  4. The corporation created the National Security Police-Spy State Apparatus to protect its corporate interests against legislators by learning their most intimate, private details and behaviors in order to black mail them to pass ever increasing gov. funding for its covert and overt ops.

    Because the National Security Police-Spy State Apparatus is in the executive branch of government over which until recently Obama presided, makes Obama culpable for spying on Trump. Therefore, Trump is correct to blame Obama. But, by the same token, Trump is now spying on people analogous to Trump the candidate.

    While spying on competitors and enemies is nothing new, the extent of spying and the outrageous power and capability of the NSPSA’s tools to command, spy, and control people is new.

  5. Julian Asange and WikiLeaks is an enemy of the State. Regardless of what they find, their hacking is Russian sponsored and never seems to involve that paradigm of virtue, Russia. The CIA should work to eliminate this threat to our nations Security.

      1. Seems to me that intelligence agencies are the natural developments of extreme nationalism and paranoid military overbuild that you espouse daily. But we ignore your endless tripe because we know botty wants everyone to live like it’s 1760.

      2. Wow, botty, I can’t bring myself to 5-star that, although I mostly agree with you about how evil the CIA is. I say “mostly” because there are enough atrocities to go around to some of the other government agencies, so not “every” one can be attributed to the CIA.
        Also because the CIA is the natural outcome of your political positions, so there’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on watching you criticize them.

      1. You are so wise. Perhaps your wisdom brought us the Brave New World of the Comrade in Chief? I suspect yes. I hope you are enjoying the chaos of your actions. Regarding my deserving a brave new world, I’d love to have the old one back. Why is it that you neocons, attack everyone who doesn’t agree with you? Oh well, enjoy!

  6. Now a good bet that it was the CIA that unlocked the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook rather than some obscure Israeli company.

    Also, haven’t seen Brennan stand up with his former associates and deny the Trumpster was bugged. CIA operating within the USA is a big no no you know.

    1. Not if they’re monitoring foreign nationals. They are allowed to operate deomstically, in conjunction with the NSA to monitor diplomats and visiting suspected foreign intelligence agents. They do not spy on domestic citizens, unless they find that those citizens are speaking to a foreign national on the other end of the line. There are many distinctions within us code for this, after going through it, the patriot act doesn’t even change this. I tend to agree with the assesment of Malcom Nance that Wikileaks is an agent of the Russian government, and that Edward Snowden was a Russian spy. Not saying he was, but his activities after realsimg the information are incredibly suspicious. Either way, we need to take this information with a proverbial load of salt.

    2. Nah. The CIA wouldn’t help the FBI on that. In fact, the Wikileaks documents show how the various agencies were duplicating each others’ insanely dangerous work, including paying for the same kinds of things multiple times.

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