WikiLeaks: CIA has targeted everyday gadgets for snooping

NEW YORK (AP) -- Maybe the CIA is spying on you through your television set after all.

Documents released by WikiLeaks allege a CIA surveillance program that targets everyday gadgets ranging from smart TVs to smartphones to cars. Such snooping, WikiLeaks said, could turn some of these devices into recorders that could snoop on everyday conversations -- and could also circumvent data-scrambling encryption on communications apps such as Facebook's WhatsApp.

The organization is, for now, withholding details on the specific hacks used "until a consensus emerges" on the nature of the CIA's program and how the methods should be "analyzed, disarmed and published." But WikiLeaks -- a nonprofit that routinely publishes confidential documents, frequently from government sources -- claims that the data and documents it obtained reveal a broad program to bypass security measures on everyday products.

If true, the disclosure could spark new privacy tensions between the government and the technology industry. Just last year, the two sides feuded over the FBI's calls for Apple to rewrite its operating system so that agents could break into the locked iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers. The FBI ultimately broke into the phone with the help of an outside party; the agency has neither disclosed the party nor the nature of the vulnerability, preventing Apple from fixing it.

According to WikiLeaks, much of the CIA program centered on dozens of vulnerabilities it discovered but didn't disclose to the gadget makers. Common practice calls for government agencies to disclose such flaws to companies privately, so that they could fix them.

Instead, WikiLeaks claims, the CIA held on to the knowledge in order to conduct a variety of attacks. As a result, tech companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft haven't been able to make the necessary fixes.

"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," WikiLeaks wrote in a press release. "If the CIA can discover such vulnerabilities so can others."

WikiLeaks claims the hacks allowed the CIA to collect audio and other messages from data-scrambling communication apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and Confide by intercepting data before it is encrypted or after it's decoded. WikiLeaks says the CIA had separate teams looking for vulnerabilities in iPhones and Android phones and also targeted tablets such as iPads. According to WikiLeaks, the vulnerabilities were discovered by the CIA itself or obtained from other government agencies and cyberweapon contractors.

WikiLeaks also claims that the CIA worked with U.K. intelligence officials to turn microphones in Samsung smart TVs into listening devices. The microphones are normally there for viewers to make voice commands, such as requests for movie recommendations. If the TV is off, there's no listening being done.

But WikiLeaks claims that a CIA hack makes the target TV appear to be off when it's actually on -- and listening. WikiLeaks says 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

Other tools in the CIA's arsenal target PCs running Microsoft's Windows system, according to WikiLeaks, which says many of the attacks are in the form of viruses designed to spread through CDs and USB drives.

WikiLeaks also says the CIA was also targeting control systems used by cars and trucks, possibly allowing the CIA to "engage in nearly undetectable assassinations."

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