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Vault 7 is a series of documents that WikiLeaks began to release on 7 March 2017, that detail activities and capabilities of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to perform electronic surveillance and cyber warfare. The files, dated from 2013–2016, include details on the agency's software capabilities, such as the ability to compromise smart TVs, web browsers (including Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft Edge), and the operating systems of most smartphones (including Apple's iOS and Google's Android), as well as other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux.
- 1 Background
- 2 Release
- 3 Authenticity
- 4 Organization of US cyber warfare
- 5 UMBRAGE
- 6 Compromised technology and software
- 7 Commentary
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
WikiLeaks started teasing the release of "Vault 7" in early February 2017 with a series of cryptic tweets. On 16 February 2017, WikiLeaks released CIA documents describing how the CIA monitored the 2012 French presidential election. The press release for this leak stated it was published "as context for its forthcoming CIA Vault 7 series."
On 8 March 2017 US intelligence and law enforcement officials said to the international news agency Reuters that they have been aware of the CIA security breach, which led to the Vault 7 since late 2016. The two officials said they were focusing on "contractors" as the likeliest source of the leak.
The first batch of documents to be released consisted of 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, purportedly from the Center for Cyber Intelligence, which already contains more pages than former NSA contractor and leaker, Edward Snowden's NSA release. WikiLeaks did not name the source, but said that the files had "circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive." According to WikiLeaks, the source "wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons" since these tools raise questions that "urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the C.I.A.'s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency."
WikiLeaks redacted names and other identifying information from the documents before their release, while attempting to allow for connections between people to be drawn via unique identifiers generated by WikiLeaks.It also said that it would postpone releasing the source code for the cyber weapons, which is reportedly several hundred million lines long, "until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the C.I.A.'s program and how such 'weapons' should be analyzed, disarmed and published." WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed this was only part of a larger series.
The CIA released a statement saying, "The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the Intelligence Community's ability to protect America against terrorists or other adversaries. Such disclosures not only jeopardize US personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm."
Assange held a press conference on 9 March to offer to share unpublished data from Vault 7 with technology companies to enable them to fix vulnerabilities detailed therein. He stated that only 1% of the total leak has been released and that much of the remainder of the leak included unpatched vulnerabilities but that he was working with Microsoft, Apple and Google to get these vulnerabilities patched as he would not release information which would put the public at risk, and as fixes were released by manufacturers he would release details of vulnerabilities. As such, none of the vulnerabilities currently released are zero-day exploits. In this press release Assange also read an official statement by Microsoft which stated Microsoft's desire for the "next Geneva Convention" which would protect people from government cyber weapons the same way the previous Geneva Conventions have protected noncombatants from warfare.
In a statement issued on 19 March 2017, Assange said the technology companies who had been contacted had not agreed, disagreed or questioned what he termed as WikiLeaks' standard industry disclosure plan. The standard disclosure time for a vulnerability is 90 days after the company responsible for patching the software is given full details of the flaw. According to WikiLeaks, only Mozilla had been provided with information on the vulnerabilities, while "Google and some other companies" only confirmed receiving the initial notification. WikiLeaks stated: "Most of these lagging companies have conflicts of interest due to their classified work with US government agencies. In practice such associations limit industry staff with US security clearances from fixing holes based on leaked information from the CIA. Should such companies choose to not secure their users against CIA or NSA attacks users may prefer organizations such as Mozilla or European companies that prioritize their users over government contracts".
When asked about their authenticity, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Hayden replied that the organization does "not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents." However, speaking on condition of anonymity, current and former intelligence officials said that the documents appear to be genuine. Edward Snowden tweeted shortly after the documents' release that they looked authentic. Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas and Director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), likened the Vault 7 to NSA hacking tools disclosed in 2016 by a group calling itself The Shadow Brokers.
On 15 March 2017, President Donald Trump stated during an interview that "the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken". The following day in a statement, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee implied that Trump, while holding the executive power to declassify state intelligence at his discretion, had recklessly discussed the leak.
Organization of US cyber warfare
WikiLeaks said that the documents came from "an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA's Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) in Langley, Virginia." The documents allowed WikiLeaks to partially determine the structure and organization of the CCI. The CCI reportedly has an entire unit devoted to compromising Apple products.
The first portion of the documents made public on 7 March 2017, Vault 7 "Year Zero", revealed that a top secret CIA unit used the German city of Frankfurt as the starting point for hacking attacks on Europe, China and the Middle East. According to the documents, the US government uses its Consulate General Office in Frankfurt as a hacker base for cyber operations. This diplomatic representation was known to be the largest US consulate worldwide, in terms of both personnel and facilities, and has played a prominent role in the US government's intelligence architecture for years. The intelligence personnel including CIA agents, NSA spies, military secret service personnel, the United States Department of Homeland Security employees and the Secret Service employees are working in the building complex with high walls and barbed wire in the north of the city. In a radius of about 40 kilometers around Frankfurt, the Americans had also established a dense network of outposts and shell companies in Frankfurt. WikiLeaks documents reveal the Frankfurt hackers, part of the Center for Cyber Intelligence Europe (CCIE), were given cover identities and diplomatic passports to obfuscate customs officers to gain entry to Germany.
The chief Public Prosecutor General of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe Peter Frank announced on 8 March 2017 that the government was conducting a preliminary investigation to see if it will launch a major probe into the activities being conducted out of the consulate and also more broadly whether people in Germany are being attacked by the CIA. Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel from the Social Democratic Party responded to the documents of Vault 7 "Year Zero" that the CIA used Frankfurt as a base for its digital espionage operations, saying that Germany did not have any information about the cyber attacks.
The documents reportedly revealed that the agency had amassed a large collection of cyberattack techniques and malware produced by other hackers. This library was reportedly maintained by the CIA's Remote Devices Branch's UMBRAGE group, with examples of using these techniques and source code contained in the "Umbrage Component Library" git repository. According to WikiLeaks, by recycling the techniques of third-parties though UMBRAGE, the CIA can not only increase its total number of attacks, but can also mislead forensic investigators by disguising these attacks as the work of other groups and nations. Among the techniques borrowed by UMBRAGE was the file wiping implementation in the Shamoon. According to PC World, some of the techniques and code snippets have been used by CIA in its internal projects, whose end result cannot be inferred from the leaks. PC World noted that the practice of planting "false flags" to deter attribution was not a new development in cyberattacks: Russian, North Korean and Israeli hacker groups are among those suspected of using false flags.
According to a study by Kim Zetter in The Intercept, UMBRAGE was probably much more focused on speeding up development by repurposing existing tools, rather than on planting false flags. Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security told The Intercept that the source code referenced in the UMBRAGE documents is "extremely public", and is likely used by a multitude of groups and state actors. Graham added: "What we can conclusively say from the evidence in the documents is that they're creating snippets of code for use in other projects and they're reusing methods in code that they find on the internet. [...] Elsewhere they talk about obscuring attacks so you can't see where it's coming from, but there's no concrete plan to do a false flag operation. They're not trying to say 'We're going to make this look like Russia'."
False flag theories
On the day the Vault 7 documents were first released, WikiLeaks described UMBRAGE as "a substantial library of attack techniques 'stolen' from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation," and tweeted, "CIA steals other groups virus and malware facilitating false flag attacks". A conspiracy theory soon emerged alleging that the CIA framed the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections. Conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter speculated about this possibility on Twitter, and Rush Limbaugh discussed it on his radio show. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that Vault 7 showed that "the CIA could get access to such 'fingerprints' and then use them.
Cybersecurity writers such as Ben Buchanan and Kevin Poulsen were skeptical of these theories. Poulsen wrote, "The leaked catalog isn't organized by country of origin, and the specific malware used by the Russian DNC hackers is nowhere on the list."
Compromised technology and software
HammerDrill is a CD/DVD collection tool that collects directory walks and files to a configured directory and filename pattern as well as logging CD/DVD insertion and removal events. v2.0 adds a gap jumping capability that Trojans 32-bit executables as they are being burned to disc by Nero. Additionally, v2.0 adds an status, termination and an on-demand collection feature controlled by HammerDrillStatus.dll, HammerDrillKiller.dll and HammerDrillCollector.dll. The logging now also fingerprints discs by hashing the first two blocks of the ISO image, which enables unique identification of multi-sessions discs even as data is added and removed. The log also logs anytime a HammerDrill trojaned binary is seen on a disc.
After WikiLeaks released the first installment of Vault 7, "Year Zero", Apple stated that "many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest iOS," and that the company "will continue work to rapidly address any identified vulnerabilities."
On 23 March 2017, WikiLeaks released "Dark Matter", the second batch of documents in its Vault 7 series, detailing the hacking techniques and tools all involving Apple products developed by the Embedded Development Branch (EDB) of the CIA. The leak also revealed the CIA had been targeting the iPhone since 2008, a year after the device was released. These EDB projects attacked Apple’s firmware meaning that the attack code would persist even if the system gets rebooted. The "Dark Matter" archive included documents from 2009 and 2013. Apple issued a second statement assuring, that based on an "initial analysis, the alleged iPhone vulnerability affected iPhone 3G only and was fixed in 2009 when iPhone 3GS was released." Additionally, a preliminary assessment showed "the alleged Mac vulnerabilities were previously fixed in all Macs launched after 2013".
WikiLeaks said on 19 March 2017 on Twitter that the “CIA was secretly exploiting” a vulnerability in a huge range of Cisco router models discovered thanks to the Vault 7 documets. The CIA had learned more than a year ago how to exploit flaws in Cisco's widely used internet switches, which direct electronic traffic, to enable eavesdropping. Cisco quickly reassigned staff from other projects in order to turn their focus solely on analyzing the attack and to figure out how the CIA hacking tricks worked, so they could help customers patch their systems and prevent criminal hackers or spies from using the same methods.
On 20 March Cisco researchers confirmed that their study of the Vault 7 documents showed the CIA had developed malware which could exploit a flaw found in 318 of Cisco's switch models and alter or take control of the network.
Cisco issuied a warning on security risks, patches were not available, but Cisco provided mitigation advice.
The electronic tools can reportedly compromise both Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems. By adding malware to the Android operating system, the tools could gain access to secure communications made on a device. At least 23 different exploits and tools were developed to target Android operating systems. In the JQJGUNSHY test, the IOC used some of these tools to successfully hack a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.
According to WikiLeaks, once an Android smartphone is penetrated the agency can collect "audio and message traffic before encryption is applied". Some of the agency's software is reportedly able to gain access to messages sent by instant messaging services. This method of accessing messages differs from obtaining access by decrypting an already encrypted message. While the encryption of messengers that offer end-to-end encryption, such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Signal, wasn't reported to be cracked, their encryption can be bypassed by capturing input before their encryption is applied, by methods such as keylogging and recording the touch input from the user. Commentators, among them Snowden and cryptographer and security pundit Bruce Schneier, observed that Wikileaks incorrectly implied that the messaging apps themselves, and their underlying encryption, had been compromised - an implication which was in turn reported for a period by the New York Times and other mainstream outlets.
Vehicle control systems
One document reportedly showed that the CIA was researching ways to infect vehicle control systems. WikiLeaks stated, "The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations." This statement brought renewed attention to conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Michael Hastings.
One of the software suites, reportedly code-named "Weeping Angel", is reportedly able to use Samsung smart televisions as covert listening devices. In June 2014, the CIA held a joint workshop with British intelligence's MI5 to improve the "Weeping Angel" hack, which appears to have specifically targeted Samsung's F8000 series TVs released in 2013. It would allow an infected smart television to be used "as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert C.I.A. server" even if it appears to be off.
The documents refer to a "Windows FAX DLL injection" exploit in Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems. This would allow a user with malicious intents to hide its own malware under the DLL of another application. However, a computer must have already been compromised through another method for the injection to take place.
Documents also reveal that the tool Hive is able to activate and exploit numerous implants available in Microsoft Windows systems. The Hive 2.6.2 User's Guide from 2014 lists Hive as compatible with Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003.
Some note that the revealed techniques and tools are most likely to be used for targeted surveillance rather than the NSA's mass surveillance techniques revealed by Edward Snowden. In a press conference Assange states that while the leaks' content "at least means that they have to engage in targeted attacks which is more expensive and might have more order trail" he also states they have exposed the CIA's "automated implant branch" which not just develops and uses viruses "but also automates how that is done" which may approach the level of bulk intersection.
Edward Snowden commented on the importance of the release, stating that it reveals the United States Government to be "developing vulnerabilities in US products" and "then intentionally keeping the holes open", which he considers highly reckless.
Today, our digital security has been compromised because the CIA has been stockpiling vulnerabilities rather than working with companies to patch them. The United States is supposed to have a process that helps secure our digital devices and services — the 'Vulnerabilities Equities Process.' Many of these vulnerabilities could have been responsibly disclosed and patched. This leak proves the inherent digital risk of stockpiling vulnerabilities rather than fixing them.
Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation’s executive director, an international non-profit digital rights group based in San Francisco, California, said the CIA had "failed to accurately assess the risk of not disclosing vulnerabilities. Even spy agencies like the CIA have a responsibility to protect the security and privacy of Americans". “The freedom to have a private conversation – free from the worry that a hostile government, a rogue government agent or a competitor or a criminal are listening – is central to a free society”. While not as strict as privacy laws in Europe, the Fourth amendment to the US constitution does guarantee the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
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