WikiLeaks: CIA could hack into phones, TVs and other electronics to turn them into permanent listening devices

The 'Weeping Angel' technology has been compared with the Telescreens in 1984

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 07 March 2017 17:41
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A French police officer talks on his mobile phone outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
A French police officer talks on his mobile phone outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

The CIA built software that could allow it to turn any phone or smart TV into a listening device, according to WikiLeaks.

A division of the US spying agency is built to explore vulnerabilities in gadgets and use them to listen in on their owners, according to new documents made public by Julian Assange.

"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 realization," the organisation wrote in a release.

The Weeping Angel attack would be able to infiltrate smart TVs and make them appear to be turned off, according to WikiLeaks. In that state, they could listen in on everything that people were saying around them, the report claims.

"The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom's MI5/BTSS," WikiLeaks wrote. "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."

Smart TVs have previously been criticised for potentially allowing their creators to spy on their users. Samsung, for instance, added a clause to its privacy terms that apparently let it listen in on users' conversations, which is made possible because the microphones are turned on at all times.

Those same powers could be exercised by the EDB to remotely control and listen in on phones, according to the WikiLeaks release. Once that happened, any data – including location, audio and text messages, or anything that can be seen or heard by the microphone and camera – could be sent to the CIA.

Exploits and vulnerabilities allow that team to break into both iPhones and Androids, according to the organisation. Once they did so, messages sent through any apps or information discussed around the phone could potentially be read – even if it was done through apparently secure apps.

"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," WikiLeaks claimed.

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