WikiLeaks to give tech firms access to CIA hacking tools

Whistle-blowing site's move aimed at helping them patch software flaws in their products

WASHINGTON • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said yesterday that his organisation would provide technology companies with exclusive access to CIA hacking tools unearthed by the whistle-blowing website to allow them to patch software flaws.

"We have decided to work with them (tech companies) to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have, so fixes can be developed and then pushed out," he said.

"Once this material is effectively disarmed by us, we will publish additional details about what has been occurring."

He said WikiLeaks had "a lot more information" about the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it. He made his comments on Facebook Live.

The anti-secrecy group this week published nearly 9,000 documents describing secret CIA hacking tools and snippets of computer code.

However, it did not publish the full programmes that would be needed to actually conduct cyber exploits against phones, computers and Internet-connected televisions.

Mr Assange accused the CIA of "devastating incompetence" for keeping hacking secrets in one place.

"This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place," he told a press conference streamed live from Ecuador's embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive since 2012. "It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons... If you build them, eventually you will lose them."

Stung by the issue, the CIA has accused WikiLeaks of endangering Americans, helping the United States' rivals and hampering the fight against terrorist threats.

But a CIA spokesman would not confirm the authenticity of the materials published by WikiLeaks, which said they were leaked from the spy agency's hacking operations. According to the documents, the CIA has produced more than 1,000 malware systems - viruses, trojans and other software that can infiltrate and take control of target electronics.

These hacking tools have allegedly targeted iPhones, the Android system, popular Microsoft software and Samsung smart televisions.

Apple and Samsung have vowed to quickly fix any vulnerabilities in their products after WikiLeaks' disclosure.

The archive released on Tuesday claims to show the CIA exploiting weaknesses it discovers in hardware and software systems without informing manufacturers of the flaws in question.

Most experts believe the leaked materials to be genuine.

Federal agencies have launched a criminal investigation, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the CIA coordinating the inquiry. The source of the materials remained unclear.

The investigation could focus on whether the CIA was sloppy in its controls, or, as The Washington Post reported, it could be "a major mole hunt" for a malicious leaker or turncoat inside the agency.

Investigators say the leak was not the work of a hostile foreign power like Russia but of a disaffected insider, as WikiLeaks suggested when it released the documents.

The FBI is preparing to interview anyone who had access to the information, a group likely to include at least a few hundred people, and possibly more than a thousand.

An intelligence official said the information, much of which appeared to be technical documents, may have come from a server outside the CIA, managed by a contractor. But neither he nor a former senior intelligence official ruled out the possibility that the culprit was a CIA employee.

The CIA has temporarily halted work on some projects.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'WikiLeaks to give tech firms access to CIA hacking tools'. Print Edition | Subscribe