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24 March, 2017

US government bought control over software privacy vulnerabilities

The CIA’s vast database of software vulnerabilities has not only been putting the cyber security of millions of Americans at risk for years, it has also cost American taxpayers millions of dollars, as the agency has had to pay for a monopoly on the vulnerabilities. Considering that the CIA lost control of this database over a year ago, those dollars have essentially been wasted.

Part 4 - Losing control and compromising security on an unprecedented scale

Despite pouring millions into the purchase and hoarding of technological vulnerabilities, the contents of this vast database did not stay secret for very long. Wikileaks, during its press conference on the “Vault 7” release, noted that the CIA “lost control of the the majority of its hacking arsenal.” According to the source that provided the documents to Wikileaks, the CIA’s hacking tools and exploits had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner,” leading to their proliferation.

As Wikileaks also noted, proliferation is a major risk in this case, considering that “once a single cyber ‘weapon’ is ‘loose’ it can spread around the world in seconds, to be used by rival states, cyber mafia and teenage hackers alike.” More concerning is that the “unauthorized manner” in which the tools were shared means that these rival states and faceless hackers likely gained access to the CIA’s hacking tools and exploit long before Wikileaks made them public. However, the CIA still kept these vulnerabilities hidden from tech companies and the public, despite having lost control over them.

But even before the CIA lost control, it was already compromising the security of millions of Americans by intentionally leaving the vulnerabilities open. The fact that U.S. intelligence agencies intentionally threatened the cyber security of millions of citizens to surreptitiously favor its own surveillance tactics makes the “national security” excuse decidedly ineffective.

This is particularly true as the U.S. government isn’t the only group that is likely making use of such tools, especially considering that they were shared so loosely and have now been made public.

As Kevin Bankston, the director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, told Wired:

If the CIA can use it, so can the Russians, or the Chinese or organized crime. The lesson here, first off, is that stockpiling a bunch of vulnerabilities is bad for cybersecurity. And two, it means they’re likely going to get leaked by someone.

With leakers currently plaguing the CIA and other parts of the U.S. government, it seems the CIA’s quest to become all-powerful in cyberspace has ultimately had the consequence of weakening cybersecurity and privacy for everyone – including themselves.

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