Sat, Mar 25, 2017 - Page 12 News List

CIA developed tools to spy on Macs: WikiLeaks

NY Times News Service, SAN FRANCISCO

The CIA developed tools to spy on Mac computers by injecting software into the chips that control the computers’ fundamental operations, the latest cache of classified government documents published on Thursday by WikiLeaks showed.

Apple said in a statement that its preliminary assessment of the leaked information indicated that the Mac vulnerabilities described in the disclosure were previously fixed in all Macs launched after 2013.

However, the documents also indicated that the CIA was developing a new version of one tool last year to work with current software.

The leaked documents were the second batch recently released by WikiLeaks, which said it obtained a hoard of information on the agency’s cyberweapons programs from a former government worker or contractor.

The first group of documents, published on March 7, suggested that the CIA had found ways to hack Apple iPhones and Android smartphones, Microsoft Windows computers, Cisco routers and Samsung smart televisions.

Since the initial release of the CIA documents, which the agency has not confirmed are authentic, major technology companies have been scrambling to assess whether the security holes exploited by the CIA still exist and to patch them if they do.

WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange has offered to share the precise software code used by the CIA’s cyberweapons with the affected companies, but major tech companies have been reluctant to directly engage with him for fear of violating US laws governing the receipt of classified information.

At a news conference on Thursday, Assange criticized the government policies that restricted such communications, but said that Apple had nonetheless been willing to work with representatives of his anti-secrecy organization.

Google and Microsoft had simply pointed WikiLeaks to its existing channels for anyone to report a security flaw, he said.

Apple denied negotiating with WikiLeaks.

“We have given them instructions to submit any information they wish through our normal process under our standard terms,” the company said.

“Thus far, we have not received any information from them that isn’t in the public domain. We are tireless defenders of our users’ security and privacy, but we do not condone theft or coordinate with those that threaten to harm our users,” it said.

Although many of the tools targeted outdated versions of the Apple devices’ software, the CIA’s general approach raises new security concerns for the industry, said Eric Ahlm, who studies cybersecurity at research company Gartner.

By rewriting the most basic software of a computer or a telephone, tools that operate at the chip level can hide their existence and avoid being wiped out by routine software updates.

Under an agreement struck during the administration of former US president Barack Obama, intelligence agencies were supposed to share their knowledge of most security vulnerabilities with tech companies so they could be fixed. The CIA documents suggest that some key vulnerabilities were kept secret for the government’s use.

The CIA declined to comment, pointing reporters to its earlier statement about the leaks, in which it defended its use of “innovative, cutting-edge” techniques to protect the nation from foreign threats and criticized WikiLeaks for sharing information that could help the country’s enemies.

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