WikiLeaks on Tuesday released what it claims is the largest-ever publication of confidential CIA documents, which appear to reveal the software tools the agency uses to perform cyber attacks.
The documents’ authenticity has not yet been confirmed, and a CIA spokesperson told the New York Times that “we do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.” WikiLeaks said that Tuesday’s release is the first in a series of leaks involving CIA documents that it plans to release. The organization, headed by Julian Assange, has nicknamed the trove of documents “Vault 7.”
The documents released Tuesday, which WikiLeaks is referring to as “Year Zero” include many lines of computer code, and the organization says that some of the tools they describe can be used to bypass the encryption of popular apps and devices, including the iPhone and the Android and Windows operating systems. The “zero-day exploits,” so-called because the CIA has not shared its loopholes with the companies involved, allow the agency to access data transmissions before they are encrypted, WikiLeaks said.
That could mean that even encrypted communications apps like Signal and WhatsApp are vulnerable to the CIA’s tools, although it appears that the CIA was able to bypass the encryption rather than crack it. A spokesperson from WhatsApp’s parent Facebook said the company was reviewing the leaked content but declined to comment further.
“These leaks are confirmation that ubiquitous encryption provided by WhatsApp and Signal are forcing intelligence agencies to use malware, pushing them from undetectable mass surveillance to high risk targeted attacks,” a Signal spokesperson said in a statement.
The trove was circulated among US government contractors, WikiLeaks said, one of whom provided it to the organization. In a news release, WikiLeaks said its source “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”
WikiLeaks said that although the documents include “armed” cyber weapons, it chose not to make those details public. It is also withholding information on CIA targets and the machines used to attack them, which the organization claims are scattered throughout Latin America, Europe, and the US.
“There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons,'” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement. “Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. But the significance of ‘Year Zero’ goes well beyond the choice between cyberwar and cyberpeace. The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”