WikiLeaks 'to share CIA hacking tools' with tech firms

Julian Assange says anti-secrecy group to work with companies to help defend them against the CIA's hacking tools.

    Assange has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy since 2012 [File: Peter Nicholls/Reuters]
    Assange has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy since 2012 [File: Peter Nicholls/Reuters]

    WikiLeaks will hand over details of hacking secrets used by the CIA to technology companies to allow them to find software flaws and fix them, founder Julian Assange has said.

    Speaking during a press conference broadcast via Facebook Live, Assange on Thursday promised to give exclusive access to tech manufacturers after the latest document dump, which included allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hacked into smartphones and computers.

    The whistle-blowing site also claimed the trove of 8,000 documents proved that the CIA and British MI5 military intelligence developed malware to infiltrate Samsung smart TVs and turn them into listening devices.

    "Considering what we think is the best way to proceed and hearing these calls from some of the manufacturers, we have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the addition technical details that we have so that the fixes can be developed and pushed out, so people can be secure," Assange said, speaking from the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he has been holed up since 2012.

    Once tech firms had patched their products, he said, he would release the full data of the hacking tools to the public.

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    In response to Assange's news conference, CIA spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak said: "As we've said previously, Julian Assange is not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity. Despite the efforts of Assange and his ilk, CIA continues to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries."

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    The CIA has so far declined to comment directly on the authenticity of the leak, but in a statement issued on Wednesday it said such releases are damaging because they equip adversaries "with tools and information to do us harm."

    It was not clear how WikiLeaks planned to cooperate with tech companies, which had asked to work with it and which would accept Assange's offer.

    Several companies have already said they are confident that their recent security updates have already accounted for the alleged flaws described in the CIA documents. Apple said in a statement on Tuesday that "many of the issues" leaked had already been patched in the latest version of its operating system.

    If sharing were to occur, it would be an unusual alliance that would give companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and others an opportunity to identify and repair any flaws in their software and devices that were being exploited by US spy agencies and some foreign allies, as described in the material.

    "It's quite an unlikely collaboration considering that in the past WikiLeaks has been a harsh critic of Google and Facebook," Al Jazeera's Charlie Angela, reporting from outside Ecuador's embassy, said.

    "And there are questions as to how useful this collaboration will be considering that US intelligence officials say much of the data and documents published detailed techniques that are over two years old, a lot of the software has already been outdated and those flaws have been fixed."

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    The WikiLeaks disclosures describe clandestine methods for bypassing or defeating encryption, antivirus tools and other protective security features for computers, mobile phones and even smart TVs.

    They include the world's most popular technology platforms, including Apple's iPhones and iPads, Google's Android phones and the Microsoft Windows operating system for desktop computers and laptops.

    WikiLeaks has not released the actual hacking tools themselves, some of which were developed by government hackers while others were purchased from outsiders. However, the group is now saying that it will.

    Assange said that traditionally WikiLeaks did not take a position on the information that it publishes and leaks, but in this case they were in helping those companies, Angela said.

    "That's because he sees these hacking techniques as ways of identifying journalists and their sources, including WikiLeaks' own sources," Angela said.

    Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after he lost a legal battle in the UK against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a suspected rape in 2010. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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