BY CHRISTOPHER BRENNAN
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Unverified WikiLeaks documents show the CIA working on hacking smart TVs. (DAVID BECKER/GETTY IMAGES)
You watch TV — but your TV could also be capable of spying on you.
A trove of documents released Tuesday by WikiLeaks claim that a CIA surveillance program can target everyday electronic gadgets — including smart TVs, smartphones and even cars.
The spy program can snoop on unsuspecting Americans, WikiLeaks says, by turning the gadgets into recording devices that can capture conversations.
The agency’s “Weeping Angel” program — believed to be developed along with British agency MI5 — allegedly captured audio, but not video, after the Samsung smart TVs were compromised.
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According to WikiLeaks, even when the TV appears to be turned off, it “operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the internet to a covert CIA server.”
While the TVs are in what’s called “fake-off mode,” the screen appears off and the LEDs on the front of the set dim as if you’d turned off your TV.
Nonetheless, the TV remains “on” and capable of recording conversations after the CIA has hacked the TV remotely.
The TV’s microphones are normally there for viewers to make voice commands, such as requests for movie recommendations. Other information that could be gleaned off of one’s smart TV include browser histories and WiFi information.
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It was not immediately clear how the smart TVs would be compromised remotely by the CIA, although the leaked engineering notes said that a “USB installation method” had been eliminated by a system upgrade.
The Central Intelligence Agency did not comment on the authenticity of the documents and the Daily News could not independently verify their authenticity.
In a statement, Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor who’s in hiding in London’s Ecuador embassy to escape a Swedish sex-assault warrant, said, “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons.’
“Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons,’ which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. ... The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”
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Though the government’s ability to use people’s squawk boxes to listen to their chatter shocked many Tuesday, Samsung itself had also previously warned about smart TVs microphones.
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition,” Samsung said in a 2015 statement.
Samsung did not comment on the hack Tuesday.
The smart TVs at risk were limited to models from 2012 and 2013.
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The notes released by WikiLeaks about the program appeared to be “early exploration” into the potentials of hacking smart TVs rather than an explanation of a large-scale ongoing program, according to Josh Yavor, director of corporate security at cybersecurity firm Duo.
Yavor said that one of the great vulnerabilities of smart TVs is that users do not regularly download updates that can also protect against commercial hackers, but added that “nation-state actors are going to find a way to get the information they want.”
He said that revelations about the use of smart TVs’ microphones should serve as a reminder to consumers about whether they want to have a device capable of listening in to them in certain areas of their home.
The CIA’s reach, however, was not limited to TVs.
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As of October 2014, the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by cars and trucks. The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations, WikiLeaks said.
To some, the revelation appeared to shed some light on the June 2013 death of journalist Michael Hastings. Hastings died in a high-speed car crash following the publication of his Buzzfeed article, “Why Democrats Love to Spy On Americans.”
The death of Hastings, a critic of the Obama administration, led to many conspiracy theories that he’d been a victim of a cyber car attack.
WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, said that the program was called "Weeping Angel." (CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES)
WikiLeaks also claims a specialized unit in the CIA’s Mobile Development Branch produces malware to “infest, control and exfiltrate data from iPhones and other Apple products running iOS, such as iPads.”
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The disclosure about smartphones could also spark new tensions between the feds and the tech industry.
Last year, the two sides feuded over the FBI’s calls for Apple to rewrite its operating system so that its agents could break into the locked iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers.
The FBI said it had ultimately broke into the phone with the help of an outside party.
WikiLeaks also revealed that in addition to the CIA’s operations in Langley, Va., the spy agency also uses the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, as a covert base for its hackers spread out across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
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CIA hackers operating out of the Frankfurt consulate are “given diplomatic ‘black’ passports and State Department cover. The instructions for incoming CIA hackers make Germany’s counter-intelligence efforts appear inconsequential. ‘Breeze through German Customs because you have your cover-for-action story down pat, and all they did was stamp your passport.’”
WikiLeaks initially released nearly 9,000 files “from an isolated, high-security network situated inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence” as the first part of its mass information dump.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on the documents during his press briefing Tuesday afternoon, but President Trump has lauded WikiLeaks in the past.
In October, Trump praised the document-spilling group after they released thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
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“I love WikiLeaks,” he said during a campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “It’s amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet.”