Positive takeaways from the CIA leaks
It's easy to focus on the Orwellian surveillance techniques that Wikileaks exposed.
Then again, a closer reading will reveal some silver linings.
#1) Thanks Snowden
Documents purportedly outlining a massive CIA surveillance program suggest that CIA agents must go to great lengths to circumvent encryption they can't break. In many cases, physical presence is required to carry off these targeted attacks.
"We are in a world where if the U.S. government wants to get your data, they can't hope to break the encryption," said Nicholas Weaver, who teaches networking and security at the University of California, Berkeley. "They have to resort to targeted attacks, and that is costly, risky and the kind of thing you do only on targets you care about. Seeing the CIA have to do stuff like this should reassure civil libertarians that the situation is better now than it was four years ago."
Four years ago is when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of huge and secret U.S. eavesdropping programs. To help thwart spies and snoops, the tech industry began to protectively encrypt email and messaging apps, a process that turns their contents into indecipherable gibberish without the coded "keys" that can unscramble them.
In the past, spy agencies like the CIA could have hacked servers at WhatsApp or similar services to see what people were saying. End-to-end encryption, though, makes that prohibitively difficult. So the CIA has to resort to tapping individual phones and intercepting data before it is encrypted or after it's decoded.
It's much like the old days when "they would have broken into a house to plant a microphone," said Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University professor who has long studied cybersecurity issues.
Cindy Cohn, executive director for Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group focused on online privacy, likened the CIA's approach to "fishing with a line and pole rather than fishing with a driftnet."
WikiLeaks may have finally done what many small and anti-government advocates have only dreamed of. They exposed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for what it is: a bloated government bureaucracy that has grown much too large to be restrained...
But perhaps most troubling is the revelation that the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal over time. That includes viruses, malware, trojans, malware remote control systems, and the previously mentioned weaponized exploits. In so many words, this means the U.S. government has handed over the key to the most intimate secrets of every single one of us to anyone with access to these lost tools. By allowing the CIA to grow so absolutely powerful, we also allowed the agency to be absolutely careless with our own lives.
Being evil is one thing. Empires will tolerate evil. But being incompetent is something else.
There is no hiding that. Eventually someone will ask questions.