Wikileaks’ recent disclosure of the CIA’s hacking and surveillance capabilities highlights a frightening new reality for today’s journalists. Considering the CIA’s penchant for silencing and intimidating reporters and editors, journalists will have to overcome greater odds to protect the public’s right to know.
by Whitney Webb
This past Tuesday saw the biggest shake-up in the tech world since Edward Snowden first revealed the full extent of the National Security Agency’s “dragnet” surveillance program nearly four years ago.
Thanks to Wikileaks’ first publication of its “Vault 7” documents, which detail the CIA’s global covert hacking program, the CIA’s ability to bypass encryption and turn practically any Internet-enabled electronic device into a covert microphone is now in the realm of public knowledge.
While these revelations are troublesome for everyone, they are particularly concerning for journalists, who often rely on encrypted apps and technological privacy for sensitive stories. Wikileaks itself highlighted this point in a tweet made soon after “Vault 7” was released: “CIA hacker malware a threat to journalists: infests iPhone, Android bypassing Signal, Confide encryption.”
This threat is particularly concerning given that the U.S. government – particularly the CIA – has a documented penchant for silencing and intimidating journalists with whom they take issue. Encrypted messaging programs have been touted as a solution for journalistic privacy in the post-Snowden world. The messaging app Signal, in particular, has been endorsed by prominent journalists and even Snowden himself.
However, some journalists have noted that Signal and other similar apps do not necessarily protect those under targeted surveillance, a concerning fact given that journalists are more likely to be targeted than other members of the general public for surveillance.
Not only has “Vault 7” now proven that encrypted messaging apps have been compromised, it has also shown that the CIA’s hacking capabilities span nearly every type of telecommunications device available to consumers, including smartphones, tablets, personal computers and routers. In addition, the CIA is able to target everything from data and applications to operating systems and hardware, making no Internet-enabled consumer electronic device safe from CIA surveillance.
Among the CIA’s hacking tools detailed in the release was a tool that allows the CIA “to bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman [sic] by hacking the ‘smart’ phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.” Essentially, the tactics that many journalists have touted as effective in protecting their privacy are rendered powerless by the CIA.
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