How The CIA Turned An American Pastime Into A Global Spying Apparatus
WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy non-profit that publishes classified information, released a trove of top secret information Tuesday, including the methods the Central Intelligence Agency used to hack into people’s televisions and other electronics.
In a technique called “Weeping Angel,” the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB) would allegedly infest smart TVs and transform them into surreptitious microphones, recording people’s conversations with no detection.
WikiLeaks published the steps the CIA reportedly takes to infiltrate someone’s smart (internet-connected) TV.
Weeping Angel places targeted TVs in “Fake-Off” mode, which gives the owner the false belief that the TV is off when it is actually on.
Once in “Fake-Off” mode, the TV is essentially operating as a bug by recording conversations in the room and then transmitting the communications over the internet to a secret CIA server.
But it isn’t just the CIA that is accused of engaging in the invasive surveillance practice; the U.K.’s MI5/BTSS, which is also tasked with counter-intelligence and national security protocol, collaborated with the CIA on this initiative, according to WikiLeaks.
Published engineering notes from a joint workshop between the CIA and the MI5 reveal further tips for maintaining covert spying operations. The two security agencies suggest suppressing the LEDs that light up the TVs to improve the look of “Fake-Off” mode.
They also had a “ToDo” list outlining future priorities such as figuring out a way to “turn on or leave WiFi turned on in Fake-Off mode” and record with video.
“Samsung offers remote support – is this an area of functionality to investigate?” the notes read, likely referring to the agency’s interest in acquiring as many means of surveillance as possible.
The CIA’s Mobile Devices Branch (MDB) is also accused of hacking or at least developing the remote surveillance capabilities for other machines, like vehicles and phones.
For smart phones, the CIA would apparently infect the devices and instruct it to send the CIA the user or owner’s “geolocation, audio and text communications as well as covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone,” according to WikiLeaks.
The EDB and MDB are just two of the several sub-organizations in the long chain of command at the CIA. Some of the files WikiLeaks acquired are dated 2014, and the branches are likely to be utilized and expanded upon in the coming years, since smart devices are growing rapidly in availability and use.
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