WikiLeaks CIA leaks not a big surprise but…

TVs turned into covert microphones is the usual headline after new WikiLeaks revelations of CIA practices. If you look at these news revelations how do you read CIA capabilities, any big surprise for you, and why? Read few comments.

CIA seal. Credit:

Tim Stevens, Lecturer in Global Security, King’s College London

I don’t think we should be surprised that the foreign intelligence agency of the world’s only superpower has a wide range of cyber capabilities and the research and development programmes to support them. We might express some surprise at the apparent scale of CIA activities but we don’t yet know enough about how these capabilities have been deployed. (Turning a TV into a listening device is neither new or particularly interesting!)

What interests me most is the following. The WikiLeaks documents show that US government agencies continue to pose a hazard to international information security and thereby to US national security. We have been told in the past that the US intelligence community does not stockpile zero-day exploits and knowledge of vulnerabilities. If the information in the WikiLeaks dump is correct it shows that the CIA is indeed withholding information about vulnerabilities from software vendors. Vendors need this information so they can patch their products and improve their security. Not sharing this information puts us all at risk. It also calls into question the nature of other known programmes like the NSA’s Vulnerabilities Equities Process.

Mariarosaria Taddeo, Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute

The use of TV or other devices as surveillance or spying tools does not come as a big surprise. The dual use of these devices comes with the very possibility of connecting them to the Internet. CIA would exploit this possibility for surveillance and security purposes, private companies may exploit it for acquiring users’ personal data for marketing and advertising purposes (see the case of Samsung TV). Not to mention the possible uses that criminals may make of this technology.

Although not surprising, if confirmed, WikiLeaks revelations concerning CIA unveil a constant and progressive erosion of individual rights and an increasing appetite for users’ personal data. We need to act now to make sure that the right regulations are in place to protect fundamental rights – like privacy – to foster transparency and awareness. The alternative is simply too risky for all the involved parts: for users, as they see their rights constantly undermined; for governments and other political actors, who may loose the trust of their citizens; for IoT producers, who may face a backlash in the adoption of this technology.

Alexander Klimburg, Director Cyber Policy and Resilience Program, Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)

The only surprises that I can take away from the leaks is that the CIA is not only inferior to the NSA, but also to some commercial companies as far as hacking us concerned. The susceptibility of SmartMedia devices-in particular TVs-is long established especially in Samsung’s case. The fact that the CIA has to hack through USB and can’t do it remotely is actually fairly unimpressive. The ability to hack into iPhone was suspected, Android as always had more holes many government actress can exploit.

So no really big surprise at all. In fact, there’s no reason to expect that this was done by whistleblowers-doesn’t show anything remotely illegal like what the Snowden documents showed.

Which basically indicates this was a state-directed leak, not a leak by disgruntled former employees or contractors.

Predrag Tasevski, PhD Candidate in Tallinn Technical University, Independent Cyber Security Researcher

Recent information did not surprise me at all. However, it did surprised that me that the WikiLeaks leaked a top secret of CIA unit that it is using the German city – Frankfurt am Main. Interestingly to this, I’m currently located in Frankfurt am Main. Before I will continue answering your question and at the same time I would like to share several thoughts about the news.

Firstly, Frankfurt am Main (FFM) city it is located in the heart of Europe and it is a center of several international and domestic strategic interests. Moreover, as such location, new city and international culture it is a great opportunity for any aspects new challenges and interests. Thus, the city itself it is a city of more than 170 nationalities and languages spoken. Also, a city which has the most frequent and biggest airport in Europe and several governments have consulates offices into the city.

Second, when we look at the strategic of EU and Germany, we can summarized that FFM it is a city and a home town in Europe for all the international and domestic Banks. Which most of them have an offices, as well as it is a home town of European Central Bank.

Consequently, my third point is among all the above points, the city is a center and a leader of Internet Exchange in Germany and Europe. More than 700 networks are connected in Frankfurt, with networks peers 5.6+ Terabit per second traffic. And it has more than 20+ data centers located. As well as it is a city of external employees and consultants. From all the above we can conclude that FFM it provides an excellent opportunity for such capabilities. Therefore, such news are not big surprise for me at all.

Meanwhile, several companies, scholars and researcher as well as whistleblowers have address such capability of CIA practices. However, with just an assumption and without any black and white concept of proof. Now this is publicly available for everyone and it is a time to start becoming, if not yet, aware of what you share with the rest of the world and government agencies.

Frankly speaking, as a cyber security scholar and expert all the capabilities highlighted in the WikiLeaks do not surprises me. We have been pursued several times that smartphones are one of the first and foremost target for any intelligent office. Specially, when everyone nowadays owns a smartphone and it takes it out with him everywhere. There is no need any longer to install a bug into a wallet or shoes, but now they have it everything. Even they can hear, track your movements, as well as see you over the video or just snapshots picture within single device. Hence, everyone owns a smart television too. Therefore, it is a perfect source and at the same time easy to exploit the vulnerability to turned into bugs.

Lior Tabansky, Scholar, Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, Tel Aviv University

These should not come as a surprise for anyone.  A TV is in fact a powerful networked computer, running a Linux-based operating system, and processing voice input.  Defense and Intelligence agencies in the West have initiated and funded most of today’s computing technology. Cyber security discipline largely started with the needs of intelligence agencies to obtain information – that now was stored in, and transferred by, computers.  For intelligence agencies, a TV is another valid, and convenient, target for exploitation.

Dorothy DenningDistinguished Professor of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School

People may be less surprised by these leaks because of earlier leaks, especially those by Snowden.


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