Wikileaks Permadrip: “Other Vault 7 Documents”

WikiLeaks has released the second in what they promise to be many further releases of CIA hacking tools it calls Vault 7. This release, which it dubs Dark Matter, consists of just 12 documents, which means (if WikiLkeak’s past claims about how big this leak is are true) the releases could go on forever.

As Motherboard lays out, the tools that got released are old — they date from 2008 to 2013.

While the documents are somewhat dated at this point, they show how the CIA was perhaps ahead of the curve in finding new ways to hacking and compromising Macs, according to Pedro Vilaca, a security researcher who’s been studying Apple computers for years.

Judging from the documents, Vilaca told Motherboard in an online chat, it “looks like CIA were very early adopters of attacks on EFI.”

“It looks like CIA is very interested in Mac/iOS targets, which makes sense since high value targets like to use [those],” Vilaca told me. “Also interesting the lag between their tools and public research. Of course there’s always unpublished research but cool to see them ahead.”

But — because I’m as interested in how Wikileaks is releasing these tools as I am in what it is releasing — it appears that WL may be sitting on more recent documents related to compromising Apple products. WL’s press release describes other Vault 7 documents, plural, that refer to more recent versions of a tool designed to attack MacBook Airs. But it includes just one of those more recent documents in this dump.

While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

That seems to suggest that there are other, more current Apple tools in WikiLeaks’ possession besides the one developmental document linked. If so it raises the same questions I raised here: is it doing so as a pose of responsible release, withholding the active exploits until Apple can fix them? Or is it withholding the best tools for its own purposes, potentially its own or others’ use? Or, given this account, perhaps Wikileaks is playing a game of chicken with the CIA, seeing whether CIA will self-disclose the newer, still unreleased exploits before Wikileaks posts them. Thus far, neither side is being forthcoming with affected tech companies, if public reports are to be believed.

In either case, I’m just as interested in what Wikileaks is doing with the files it is sitting on as I am the dated ones that have been released.

Update: In his presser the other day, Julian Assange did provide a list of tech companies he had reached out to.

In his March 23 press conference, Assange offered the following timeline relating to WikiLeaks’ communications with technology firms:

  • March 12: WikiLeaks reached out to Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla.

  • March 12: Mozilla replied to WikiLeaks, agreeing to its terms. The aforementioned Cisco engineer also reached out.

  • March 13: Google “acknowledged receipt of our initial approach but didn’t address the terms,” Assange said.

  • March 15: MikroTek contacted WikiLeaks; it makes a controller that’s widely used in VoIP equipment.

  • March 17: Mozilla replied, asked for more files.

  • March 18: WikiLeaks told Mozilla it’s looking for the information.

  • March 20: First contact from Microsoft “not agreeing to the standard terms, but pointing to their standard procedures,” Assange said, including providing a PGP email key. Google also replied the same day, pointing to their standard procedures, and including a PGP email key.

Password: [email protected]

Remember how infosec people made fun of John Podesta when they learned his iCloud password — which got exposed in the Wikileaks dump of his stolen emails — was Runner4567? 4Chan used the password to hack a bunch of Podesta’s accounts.

Among the pages that got exposed in this week’s Wikileaks dumps of CIA’s hacking tools was a page of Operational Support Branch passwords. For some time the page showed the root password for the network they used for development purposes.

These passwords, as well as one (“password”) for another part of their server, were available on the network site as well.

Throughout the period of updates, it included a meme joking about setting your password to Incorrect.

At the beginning of January 2015, it included the passwords for two unclassified laptops used by the department, one of which was the very guessable [email protected]

OSB unclass laptop #1 password (tag 2005K676, Dell service tag: 7731Y32): “OSBDemoLap9W53!” (Without quotes)

OSB unclass laptop #2 password (tag 2005K677, Dell service tag: CN81Y32): “[email protected]” (no quotes, first chracter is a zero)

Remember, Assange has claimed that CIA treated its exploits as unclassified so they could be spread outside of CIA facilities.

A discussion ensued about what a bad security practice this was.

2015-01-30 14:30 [User #14588054]:

Am I the only one who looked at this page and thought, “I wonder if security would have a heart attack if they saw this.”?

2015-01-30 14:50 [User #7995631]:

Its locked down to the OSB group… idk if that helps.

2015-01-30 15:10 [User #14588054]:

I noticed, but I still cringed when I first saw the page.

I have no idea whether these passwords exacerbated CIA’s exposure. The early 2015 discussion happened well before — at least as we currently understand it — the compromise that led to Wikileaks’ obtaining the files. The laptops themselves were unclassified, and would only be a problem if someone got physical custody of them. Though shared devices like laptops were one of the things for which CIA had a multi-factor authentication problem up until at least August of 2016.

But if we’re going to make fun of John Podesta for password hygiene exposed in a Wikileaks dump, we ought to at least acknowledge that CIA’s hackers, people who spent their days exploiting hygiene sloppiness like this, had (simple) passwords lying around on a server that — as it turns out — was nowhere near as secure as it needed to be.

No More Secrets: Vault 7

Several days after Shadow Brokers first announced an auction of a bunch of NSA tools last August, Wikileaks announced it had its own “pristine” copy of the files, which it would soon release.

Wikileaks never did release that archive.

On January 7-8, Shadow Brokers got testy with Wikileaks, suggesting that Wikileaks had grown power hungry.

Shadow Brokers threw in several hashtags, two of which could be throw-offs or cultural references to a range of things (though as always with pop culture references, help me out if I’m missing something obvious). The third — “no more secrets” — in context invokes Sneakers, a movie full of devious US intelligence agencies, double dealing Russians, and the dilemma of what you do when you’ve got the power that comes from the ability to hack anything.

Moments later, Shadow Brokers called out Wikileaks, invoking (in the language of this season’s South Park) Wikileaks’ promise to release the file.

Of course, within a week, Shadow Brokers had reneged on a promise of sorts. Less than an hour before calling out Wikileaks for growing power hungry, Shadow Brokers suggested it would sell a range of Windows exploits. Four days later, it instead released a limited (and dated) subset of Windows files — ones curiously implicating Kaspersky Labs. All the “bullshit political talk,” SB wrote in a final message, was just marketing.

Despite theories, it always being about bitcoins for TheShadowBrokers. Free dumps and bullshit political talk was being for marketing attention.

And with that, the entity called Shadow Brokers checked out, still claiming to be in possession of a range of (dated) NSA hacking exploits.

Less than a month later (and over a month before Monday’s release), Wikileaks started the prep for the Vault 7 release of CIA’s hacking tools. (Given the month of lead hype and persistent attention throughout, I’m not sure why any claimed rapid and “overwhelming” response to the release should be attributed to Russian bots.)

Having been called out for sitting on the Shadow Brokers’ files (if, indeed, Wikileaks actually had them), Wikileaks this time gave the appearance of being forthcoming, claiming “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the [CIA].”

Except …

While Wikileaks released a great deal of information about CIA’s hacking, it didn’t release the code itself, or the IP addresses that would reveal targets or command and control servers.

Wikileaks has carefully reviewed the “Year Zero” disclosure and published substantive CIA documentation while avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should analyzed, disarmed and published.

Wikileaks has also decided to redact and anonymise some identifying information in “Year Zero” for in depth analysis. These redactions include ten of thousands of CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States.

Now, perhaps Wikileaks really is doing all this out of a sense of responsibility. More likely, it is designed to create a buzz for more disclosure that WL can use to shift responsibility for further disclosure. Yesterday, Wikileaks even did a silly Twitter poll designed to get thousands to endorse further leaks.

In reality, whether for their own PR reasons or because it reflects the truth, tech companies have been issued statements reassuring users that some of the flaws identified in the Wikileaks dump have already been fixed (and in fact, for some of them, that was already reflected in the Wikileaks documents).

Thus far, however, Wikileaks is sitting on a substantial quantity of recent CIA exploits and may be sitting on a significant quantity of dated NSA exploits. Mind you, the CIA seems to know (belatedly) precisely what Wikileaks has; while NSA has a list of the exploits Shadow Brokers was purportedly trying to sell, it’s not clear whether NSA knew exactly what was in that dump. But CIA and NSA can’t exactly tell the rest of the world what might be coming at them in the form of repurposed leaked hacking tools.

There has been a lot of conversation — most lacking nuance — about what it means that CIA uses code from other hackers’ exploits (including Shamoon, the Iranian exploit that has recently been updated and deployed against European targets). There has been less discussion about what it means that Wikileaks and Shadow Brokers and whatever go-betweens were involved in those leaks might be involved have been sitting on US intelligence community exploits.

That seems like a worthwhile question.

Update: as his delayed presser on this release, Assange stated that he would work with tech companies to neutralize the exploits, then release them.

Wikileaks Dumps CIA’s Hacking Tools

Today, Wikileaks released a big chunk of documents pertaining to CIA’s hacking tools.

People will — and already have — treated this as yet another Russian effort to use Wikileaks as a cutout to release documents it wants out there. And that may well be the case. It would follow closely on the release, by Shadow Brokers, of a small subset of what were billed as NSA hacking tools (more on that in a bit).

Wikileaks attributes the files to two sources. First, it suggests a “US government hacker and contractor … provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

In an apparent reference to this source, Wikileaks explains,

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

It also notes that developers may steal tools without a trace (though speaks of this in terms of proliferation, not this leak).

Securing such ‘weapons’ is particularly difficult since the same people who develop and use them have the skills to exfiltrate copies without leaving traces — sometimes by using the very same ‘weapons’ against the organizations that contain them.

But Wikileaks also suggests that, because the CIA doesn’t classify its attack tools, it leaves them more vulnerable to theft.

In what is surely one of the most astounding intelligence own goals in living memory, the CIA structured its classification regime such that for the most market valuable part of “Vault 7” — the CIA’s weaponized malware (implants + zero days), Listening Posts (LP), and Command and Control (C2) systems — the agency has little legal recourse.

The CIA made these systems unclassified.

Why the CIA chose to make its cyberarsenal unclassified reveals how concepts developed for military use do not easily crossover to the ‘battlefield’ of cyber ‘war’.

To attack its targets, the CIA usually requires that its implants communicate with their control programs over the internet. If CIA implants, Command & Control and Listening Post software were classified, then CIA officers could be prosecuted or dismissed for violating rules that prohibit placing classified information onto the Internet. Consequently the CIA has secretly made most of its cyber spying/war code unclassified. The U.S. government is not able to assert copyright either, due to restrictions in the U.S. Constitution. This means that cyber ‘arms’ manufactures and computer hackers can freely “pirate” these ‘weapons’ if they are obtained. The CIA has primarily had to rely on obfuscation to protect its malware secrets.

Wikileaks is trying to appear more responsible than it was with recent leaks, which doxed private individuals. It explains that it has anonymized names. (It very helpfully replaces those names with numbers, which leaves enough specificity such that over 30 CIA hackers will know Wikileaks has detailed information on them, down to their favorite memes.) And it has withheld the actual exploits, until such time — it claims — that further consensus can be developed on how such weapons should be analyzed. In addition, Wikileaks has withheld targets.

Wikileaks has carefully reviewed the “Year Zero” disclosure and published substantive CIA documentation while avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should analyzed, disarmed and published.

Wikileaks has also decided to redact and anonymise some identifying information in “Year Zero” for in depth analysis. These redactions include ten of thousands of CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States. While we are aware of the imperfect results of any approach chosen, we remain committed to our publishing model and note that the quantity of published pages in “Vault 7” part one (“Year Zero”) already eclipses the total number of pages published over the first three years of the Edward Snowden NSA leaks.

Several comments about this: First, whether for reasonable or unreasonable purpose, withholding such details (for now) is responsible. It prevents Wikileaks’ release from expanding the use of these tools. Wikileaks’ password for some of these files is, “SplinterItIntoAThousandPiecesAndScatterItIntoTheWinds,” suggesting the motive.

Of course, by revealing that these tools exist, but not releasing them, Wikileaks could (hypothetically) itself use them. Wikileaks doesn’t explain how it obtained upcoming parts of this release, but it’s possible that someone used CIA’s tools against itself.

In addition, by not revealing CIA’s targets, Wikileaks both explicitly and implicitly prevents CIA (and the US generally) to offer the excuse they always offer for their surveillance tools: that they’re chasing terrorists — though of course, this is just a matter of agency vocabulary.

Among the list of possible targets of the collection are ‘Asset’, ‘Liason [sic] Asset’, ‘System Administrator’, ‘Foreign Information Operations’, ‘Foreign Intelligence Agencies’ and ‘Foreign Government Entities’. Notably absent is any reference to extremists or transnational criminals.

We will no doubt have further debate about whether Wikileaks was responsible or not with this dump. But consider: various contractors (and to a much lesser degree, the US intelligence community) have been releasing details about Russian hacking for months. That is deemed to be in the common interest, because it permits targets to prevent being hacked by a state actor.

Any hacking CIA does comes on top of the simplified spying the US can do thanks to the presence of most tech companies in the US.

So why should CIA hacking be treated any differently than FSB or GRU hacking, at least by the non-American part of the world?

This leak may well be what Wikileaks claims it to be — a concerned insider exposing the CIA’s excesses. Or perhaps it’s part of a larger Russian op. (Those two things could even both be true.) But as we talk about cybersecurity, we would do well to remember that all nation-state hackers pose a threat to the digital commons.