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Officials Knew of CIA's Security Breach, Which Led to "Vault 7" Leaks, in 2016

WikiLeaks revelations show bright side to government surveillance: they can't hack into encrypted messaging apps

WhatsApp and Signal, which offer end-to-end encrypted messaging, withstood the CIA's hacking efforts. (Photo: Sam Azgor/flickr/cc)

Intelligence officials told Reuters on Wednesday that they were aware as early as 2016 that the CIA had a security breach that led to the watchdog group WikiLeaks exposing the agency's surveillance tools.

The anonymous officials also said the documents, released in perhaps WikiLeaks' biggest exposé yet, appeared to be authentic.

Reuters reports:

Investigators were focusing on CIA contractors as the likely source of passing materials to WikiLeaks, the officials said. The group published what it said were nearly 8,000 of pages of internal CIA discussions about hacking techniques used between 2013 and 2016.

The leak, dubbed "Vault 7," appears to reveal that the CIA is capable of exploiting weaknesses in people's smart devices—from their phones to their TVs—to listen in on them. Apple on Tuesday vowed to "rapidly address" any security holes used by the agency.

As the fallout from the revelations continues, journalist Trevor Timm pointed to the silver lining on Wednesday, writing in an op-ed for the Guardian that the leaks show encrypted-messaging apps like Signal and WhatsApp withstood the CIA's hacking efforts.


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Timm writes:

[What the] documents do purport to show is that the CIA has a host of exploits to attack the operating systems of popular mobile devices like iPhones and Androids—a deeply worrying prospect, to be sure—but to "defeat" secure messaging apps, government hackers essentially have to gain access to your phone itself before they can read your messages.

So if you're using an app like Signal, the content of those communications are at least still likely protected from their vast surveillance nets that otherwise indiscriminately capture billions text messages and emails per day.

"With countless users switching over to end-to-end communications in recent years, it means intelligence agencies like the CIA must target individuals one by one, which, in turn, means the cost for each surveillance target goes up, and forces them to prioritize a much smaller number of people," he writes.

Moreover, these leaks may help fuel more public debate over the surveillance powers of our government, Timm adds, "whether the Trump administration likes it or not."

"But in the mean time," he writes, "download Signal."

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