The release of ‘Vault 7’ documents by WikiLeaks and previous releases by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden confirm how ultimate responsibility for the proliferation of cyber crime (like hacking) may well lie with America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other intelligence agencies.
While the threat to most people is from non-state hackers, the intelligence agencies – including British intelligence – must share responsibility for the creation and exploitation of vulnerabilities. This has led to millions of computer users around the world being compromised; with many becoming the target of ransomware crime, banking scams, identity theft, or man-in-the-middle attacks.
Protect yourself against hacking
Serious vulnerabilities not disclosed to the manufacturers place huge swathes of the population and critical infrastructure at risk to foreign intelligence or cyber criminals who independently discover or hear rumors of the vulnerability. If the CIA can discover such vulnerabilities, so can others.
In the light of these latest revelations, computer users may wish to adopt improvements in computer security. Others, including journalists and political activists, may prefer to adopt more radical measures.
First, a reminder of what WikiLeaks revealed in Vault 7
Basically, if the CIA can hack a device and gain full control of it — whether it’s a smartphone, a laptop, or a TV with a microphone — they can spy on everything that happens on that device.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it will. But precautions are still necessary. In part because non-state hackers, using the same techniques, want to steal and sell on your data.
Measures for most computers users
Some advice (not comprehensive):
- Consider not using internet-connected TVs.
- Similarly, smartphones: switch to a 2G phone, which is less intrusive.
- Avoid ‘smart devices‘ (sometimes known as the Internet of Things) and instead use wired connections.
- Use Firefox browser with add-ons like Ghostery or Ad-blocker or HTTPS Everywhere.
- Better still, download and use Tor browser (which comes with those add-ons pre-loaded and disguises your IP address).
- Adopt common-sense precautions when opening emails – e.g. don’t open emails that appear suspicious (and never open an attachment you’re unsure of).
- Switch to Thunderbird email client (in conjunction with Enigma encryption).
- If you need to use a messaging app, use Signal. It’s unlikely to be risky unless your device has been compromised.
- Consider migrating to a Linux-based operating system, such as Ubuntu, Mint or Fedora. They’re still hackable, but not as notorious as MacOS or Windows.
- Cover up the camera on any PC you use.
- Assume everything you do via your computer is hacked and your data is shared.
More extreme solutions
Anyone worried about intelligence services hacking their computer can adopt even more extreme measures. Primarily, this involves using an operating system like Qubes which is less likely to be a target.
- Buy another PC (or strip down your existing PC) and use a more reliable operating system like Qubes (as recommended by Edward Snowden).
- Boot up with Tails (its logo features at the bottom of WikiLeaks webpages) via a USB.
Messaging apps such as Signal should be better protected from hacking via either of these operating systems. And both systems provide disc encryption, as well as built-in Tor.
This should all help you to be both informed and protected.
– Read up on the latest from Big Brother Watch.
– Donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
– Ask Donald Trump to provide clemency to Edward Snowden.
Featured image via anonymous source