The U.S. Government contends that securing the country from terrorist attacks, both physical and cyber, is imperative to the nation’s well-being. But this so-called security comes at the expense of our privacy.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the foundations on which the United States was established. To have liberty means to be in “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” However, the metadata gathering and mass-surveillance techniques that have been implemented through policy and practice are not aligned with the definition of liberty. Now more than ever it is clear that big brother is always watching.
A recent article discusses how the United States government is able to collect metadata through programs such as NSA’s Prism by monitoring the data flow between telecommunication and internet services providers, nationally and internationally. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 makes NSA data collection completely legal. The CIA’s clandestine collecting of information from specific platforms through hacking, however, is not covered by any law.
On Wednesday, WikiLeaks released 934 documents from the total number of 9,761 “Year Zero” files. These documents were leaked from CIA under the codename “Vault 7”. Based on the material published, it is clear the United States government is able to track and collect data from iOS, Android, Samsung TV, and other platforms, or in other words, illegally hack its own citizens’ devices.
To some, the recent developments are not surprising. However, they should be alarming to anyone who uses technology in their daily lives. There are many people who argue that if these programs are intended to be used for “public interest”, it should not matter if the government knows what you are doing. However, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to reasonable privacy. It is unlawful to be monitored without probable cause or a warrant issued by a court.
There are those who come to the defense of the CIA with the justification that the U.S. Government is using these programs to spy on other countries and not U.S. citizens. The CIA’s programs go beyond just monitoring and collecting data; they also have the capability to take complete control of electronic devices. One of which is the Samsung SmartTV. Documents reveal program that can cause the television set to appear to have been turned off with the led indicator light suppressed when surrounding audio is actually being captured using the microphone, unbeknownst to the user.
The leaked documents also detail that various malware, software, and embedded technologies based on Internet of Things (IoT) tools and programs developed by the Engineering Development Group are used to monitor and manipulate Operating Systems, (including Windows, OSX, and Linux), and on smart phones like Android and the iPhone. Communication through these smartphone’s applications such as Telegram, WhatsApp, Confide, and Cloakman, touted to be secure channels because all messages sent through these apps undergo encryption, can be intercepted before the message is encrypted.
The government is unable to decrypt encrypted communication between two devices using such apps. However, the CIA has the ability to record and log the words we type into a keyboard before they are encrypted and sent. This kind of malware have been around since the 1970s and it is speculated that if old technologies like “keyloggers” exist, malware that captures keystrokes on a smartphone is also possible.
According to WikiLeaks, the majority of CIA’s hacking arsenal, including “malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation” were recently compromised through circulation amongst U.S. government hackers and contractors. Thus, WikiLeaks was able to get ahold of several hundred million lines of code. If this code were to get into the wrong hands, say a nefarious hacking group or another country’s intelligence agency, cyber warfare could break out in a matter of seconds.
Whether such claim is true or not, there is no technology or system that cannot be hacked, it is just a matter of when and how, not to mention who will do the hacking. In the event that these tools used by the CIA are compromised, the impacts would be catastrophic. Wait! They were.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird and Samuel McMullen