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
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
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, OSx, 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
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 examples section below.
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
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.
‘Cyberwar’ programs are a serious proliferation risk
Cyber ‘weapons’ are not possible to keep under effective control.
While nuclear proliferation has been restrained by the enormous costs and visible
infrastructure involved in assembling enough fissile material to produce a
critical nuclear mass, cyber ‘weapons’, once developed, are very hard to
Cyber ‘weapons’ are in fact just computer programs which can be pirated
like any other. Since they are entirely comprised of information they
can be copied quickly with no marginal cost.
Securing such ‘weapons’ is particularly difficult since the same people
who develop and use them have the skills to exfiltrate copies without
leaving traces — sometimes by using the very same ‘weapons’ against the
organizations that contain them. There are substantial price incentives
for government hackers and consultants to obtain copies since there is
a global “vulnerability market” that will pay hundreds of thousands to
millions of dollars for copies of such ‘weapons’. Similarly, contractors
and companies who obtain such ‘weapons’ sometimes use them for their
own purposes, obtaining advantage over their competitors in selling
Over the last three years the United States intelligence sector,
which consists of government agencies such as the CIA and NSA and
their contractors, such as Booze Allan Hamilton, has been subject to
unprecedented series of data exfiltrations by its own workers.
A number of intelligence community members not yet publicly named
have been arrested or subject to federal criminal investigations in
Most visibly, on February 8, 2017 a U.S. federal grand jury indicted
Harold T. Martin III with 20 counts of mishandling classified
information. The Department of Justice alleged that it seized some 50,000
gigabytes of information from Harold T. Martin III that he had obtained
from classified programs at NSA and CIA, including the source code
for numerous hacking tools.
Once a single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world
in seconds, to be used by peer states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers