Disturbing New WikiLeaks Dump Shows Just How Vulnerable We Are to Hacking


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Okay, so maybe Big Brother is watching you.

It turns out that even apps like WhatsApp, Signal, Confide, and Telegram, which are all seen as strong for privacy and encryption, are vulnerable to hacking. In a disturbing new revelation, we are learning that hackers may have the capability of capturing audio and messaging date before the encryption takes place.

Can you hear me now? (Yes.)

WikiLeaks logo (Fair Use)

In what may become the largest release of top-secret CIA information, WikiLeaks just released 8,761 documents and files that detail the agency’s extensive hacking tools. This initial data dump, referred to as Year Zero, is the first installment in what is being nicknamed Vault 7. If WikiLeaks’ assertions are Vault 7 are correct, the release would be a greater amount of information than gleaned from Edward Snowden.

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While the CIA has not confirmed Vault 7’s authenticity, it has not currently issued a denial of its veracity. We also do not know if the stockpile derived from a former CIA employee or contractor, it whether Vault 7 itself derives from hacking by a foreign government.

Vault 7 is showing us just how vulnerable we are to hacking.

The long-term ramification from this latest WikiLeaks revelation could be an erosion of faith that our popular tech tools are secure. Whether it be using an iPhone or watching a show on a smart tv, we may become more skeptical that our tools are not being used against us.

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There has been a low-running tension between consumers, the government, and the tech industry. Each group has their own interests, and they are often at odds.

The general public has a desire not to be hacked, and the government has a desire for hackable tech. The tech industry has a desire to make money, which typically involves ensuring consumers that their products will not be hacked.

This initial release by WikiLeaks showcases the tremendous amount of resources that the CIA has put into ensuring that our popular devices, whether they be Android or Apple, have certain back-door vulnerabilities. While it is generally understood that the government works with major tech companies to notify the company when a vulnerability has been found, this data dump by WikiLeaks implies that the CIA is not only not telling companies about vulnerabilities, but has also been actively pursuing to find and purchase additional flaws.

“Governments should be safeguarding the digital privacy and security of their citizens, but these alleged actions by the CIA do just the opposite. Weaponising everyday products such as TVs and smartphones – and failing to disclose vulnerabilities to manufacturers – is dangerous and short-sighted.” -Craig Fagan, policy director for the World Wide Web Foundation (speaking to the BBC)

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The problem, of course, is what happens when bad actors exploit vulnerability flaws? The initial release of Vault 7 (Year One) seems to represent a playbook of sorts. That playbook is now out of the proverbial locker room.

“Those vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and governments around the world. Patching security holes immediately, not stockpiling them, is the best way to make everyone’s digital life safer.”-Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, speaking to The New York Times

While companies like Apple are already asserted that they have patched the problems listed in WikiLeaks, it is our faith that our products are secure that may be more difficult to fix.

Yes, You Can Hack a Pacemaker (and Other Medical Devices Too).


On Sunday’s episode of the Emmy award-winning show Homeland, the Vice President of the United States is assassinated by a group of terrorists that have hacked into the pacemaker controlling his heart. In an elaborate plot, they obtain the device’s unique identification number. They then are able to remotely take control and administer large electrical shocks, bringing on a fatal heart attack.

Viewers were shocked — many questioned if something like this was possible in real life. In short: Yes (except, the part about the attacker being halfway across the world is questionable). For years, researchers have been exposing enormous vulnerabilities in Internet-connected implanted medical devices.

There are millions of people who rely on these brilliant technologies to stay alive. But as we put more electronic devices into our bodies, there are serious security challenges that must be addressed. We are familiar with the threat that cyber-crime poses to the computers around us — however, we have not yet prepared for the threat it may pose to the computers inside of us.

Implanted devices have been around for decades, but only in the last decade have these devices become virtually accessible. While they allow for doctors to collect valuable data, many of these devices were distributed without any type of encryption or defensive mechanisms in place. Unlike a regular electronic device that can be loaded with new firmware, medical devices are embedded inside the body and require surgery for “full” updates. One of the greatest constraints to adding additional security features is the very limited amount of battery power available.

Thankfully, there have been no recorded cases of a death or injury resulting from a cyber attack on the body. All demonstrations so far have been conducted for research purposes only. But if somebody decides to use these methods for nefarious purposes, it may go undetected.

Marc Goodman, a global security expert and the track chair for Policy, Law and Ethics at Singularity University, explains just how difficult it is to detect these types of attacks. “Even if a case were to go to the coroner’s office for review,” he asks, “how many public medical examiners would be capable of conducting a complex computer forensics investigation?” Even more troubling was, “The evidence of medical device tampering might not even be located on the body, where the coroner is accustomed to finding it, but rather might be thousands of kilometers away, across an ocean on a foreign computer server.”

Since knowledge of these vulnerabilities became public in 2008, there have been rapid advancements in the types of hacking successfully attempted.

The equipment needed to hack a transmitter used to cost tens of thousands of dollars; last year a researcher hacked his insulin pump using an Arduino module that cost less than $20. Barnaby Jack, a security researcher at McAfee, in April demonstrated a system that could scan for and compromise insulin pumps that communicate wirelessly. With a push of a button on his laptop, he could have any pump within 300 feet dump its entire contents, without even needing to know the devices’ identification numbers. At a different conference, Jack showed how he reverse engineered a pacemaker and could deliver an 830-volt shock to a person’s device from 50 feet away — which he likened to an “anonymous assassination.”

There have also been some fascinating advancements in the emerging field of security for medical devices. Researchers have created a “noise” shield that can block out certain attacks — but have strangely run into problems with telecommunication companies looking to protect their frequencies. There have been the discussions of using ultrasound waves to determine the distance between a transmitted and medical device to prevent far-away attacks. Another team has developed biometric heartbeat sensors to allow devices within a body to communicate with each other, keeping out intruding devices and signals.

But these developments pale in comparison to the enormous difficulty of protecting against “medical cybercrime,” and the rest of the industry is falling badly behind.

In hospitals around the country there has been a dangerous rise of malware infections in computerized equipment. Many of these systems are running very old versions of Windows that are susceptible to viruses from years ago, and some manufacturers will not allow their equipment to be modified, even with security updates, partially due to regulatory restrictions. A solution to this problem requires a rethinking of the legal protections, the loosening of equipment guidelines, as well as increased disclosure to patients.

Government regulators have studied this issue and recommended that the FDA take these concerns into account when approving devices. This may be a helpful first step, but the government will not be able to keep up with the fast developments of cyber-crime. As the digital and physical world continue to come together, we are going to need an aggressive system of testing and updating these systems. The devices of yesterday were not created to protect against the threats of tomorrow.

Source:Forbes

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