Wikileaks Releases Trove of CIA Documents, Cyber-Exploit Code

Security experts are not surprised by the capabilities described in the documents, but worry over the impact that the leak will have on the intelligence community.

top secret cloud security

Wikileaks published a trove of more than 8,000 files on March 7, purportedly stolen from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and containing “several hundred millions lines of code” as well as descriptions of cyber-operations.

The large corpus of material, dubbed “Vault 7” by Wikileaks and which security experts had already started analyzing, appears to be genuine, according to reports citing intelligence experts.

The code represents potential attacks aimed at compromising iPhone and Android devices, turning Samsung smart TVs into surveillance devices and infecting the three major computer operating systems—Windows, macOS and Linux.

The capabilities described in files are not surprising, but the general release of the information could put both public and private infrastructure at risk, Rick Hanson, executive vice president of security firm Skyport Systems, said in a statement sent to eWEEK.

“The protection of sensitive tools and data by our intel community should be a top priority,” he said. “If this leak turns out to be a reality, our governmental cyber-security policy and implementation needs to be called into question.”

Wikileaks has become a clearinghouse for releasing data stolen from the U.S. government. In 2010, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange published diplomatic cables stolen by Chelsea—formerly Bradley—Manning from the U.S. State Department. In 2016, following many U.S.-centric leaks, the group published collections of emails apparently stolen from both the Democratic National Committee and Clinton advisor John Podesta.

While the leaks have put U.S. diplomatic and military policy in harsh light, the overwhelming focus on leaking U.S. documents has called into question whether Wikileaks is acting as a proxy for Russia.

Following the DNC and Podesta leaks, then President-elect Trump defended Wikileaks and Julian Assange, tweeting, “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ –why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

Such statements can make it more likely that such leaks happen in the future, Hanson said.

“When an organization like WikiLeaks is lauded in any forum there is reason to be concerned,” he said. “The fact that Wikileaks claims to have critical CIA information should put our intel community on record.”

Other security experts focused on how the files were leaked. Wikileaks claims that an unnamed source leaked the files for selfless reasons.

“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 group stated in a release published with the files. “The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyber-weapons.”

Unfortunately, the leak of attack code and previously unknown vulnerabilities will likely have the opposite effect. Prior academic research has shown that, when exploits become popularized, the use of those methods quickly escalates by up to 100,000 times.

Other security researchers cautioned about criticizing the CIA for the leak. U.S. firms have had little luck against external attackers and inside attackers are much more pernicious, Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of web security firm High-Tech Bridge, said in a statement sent to eWEEK.

“This can be an insider incident, against which—no large companies or governmental agencies are protected in any country,” he said.