The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has become the preeminent hacking operation, sneaking into hi-tech phones and televisions to spy on people worldwide, an explosive WikiLeaks publication said on Tuesday.
To hide its operations, the CIA routinely adopted hacking techniques that enabled them to appear as if they were hackers in Russia, WikiLeaks said.
The capabilities described include recording the sounds, images and the private text messages of users, even when they resort to encrypted apps to communicate.
WikiLeaks also claimed that nearly all of the CIA's arsenal of privacy-crushing cyber-weapons have been stolen, and the tools are potentially in the hands of criminals and foreign spies.
WikiLeaks said it published the documents to show the potentially hazardous ramifications of the CIA's covert hacking program — and the massive theft of those tools.
"There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber 'weapons,'" WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said in a statement.
Wikileaks said it redacted lists of CIA surveillance targets, though it said they included targets and machines in Latin America, Europe and the United States.
The anti-secrecy group also said that by developing such intrusive technology — rather than helping tech companies patch flaws in their products — the CIA was undermining efforts to protect the cybersecurity of Americans.
By targeting devices, the CIA reportedly gains access to even well-encrypted communications, on such popular apps as Signal and WhatsApp, without having to crack the encryption itself. The WikiLeaks reports acknowledged that difference by saying the CIA had found ways to “bypass,” as opposed to defeat, encryption technologies.