The Good (and Bad) of the CIA Hacking Leaks
A recent WikiLeaks “bombshell” of a report made public thousands of documents that shed light on the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking techniques. Among the products covered in the report are several widely popular consumer electronics devices like the iPhone, Android devices, certain Samsung Smart TVs, and Windows devices. The report, codenamed Vault 7, provided specific details for how the CIA was able to hack into the devices—implementing a “fake off” mode on Samsung TVs, for example.
Several of the impacted companies have already issued statements and gotten out in front of the story. Apple, in particular, said it was already aware of the vulnerabilities in its iOS software and had corrected the issues. Samsung, in several statements to different media organizations, simply said it takes consumer privacy matters very seriously.
And on Thursday, WikiLeaks announced that it would work with the affected tech companies by providing them the details of how the CIA was able to hack their products.
Wikileaks founder Assange says his group will work with tech companies to help defeat the CIA's hacking tools. https://t.co/J89pkK2VtY
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 9, 2017
The total number of documents released in the WikiLeaks dump already outpaces the number of classified NSA documents released by Edward Snowden over the first three years of his leaks. And WikiLeaks said this is just the start of the CIA document dump.
So, all of that considered, how big of an issue is this really?
From my perspective, the answer to that question depends on the lens that you’re using to look at the situation. So, let’s look at it through a couple of different ones.
The Business Case
The WikiLeaks leak could have serious short-term implications for the consumer electronics space, especially for the companies explicitly named in the report. In a time where manufacturers, content providers, and more are pushing consumers towards the age of connected everything, the last thing these companies need is a major security scare.
If there’s one hurdle that manufacturers need to get over with the implementation of 5G its consumers’ inherent fear of having their personal, private information compromised. The last few years have not been kind on that front—from the stolen bank card data at retail locations, to the recent VIZIO spying case. Consumers are wary of giving information away. We’re one major incident away from going back to using our mattresses as bank accounts, and this whole CIA hacking thing could be the one to push people over the edge.
Granted the Samsung TV hack impacted very few models and Apple’s claim that they’ve already fixed their security issues, there could be a slight dip in sales of other connected devices. It might not be enough to throw off sales projections in a major way, but there’s no way this goes unrealized in the retail space. Maybe there was a customer out there looking at a smart TV or a connected doorbell, but they were unsure if they wanted to pull the trigger on the purchase. This WikiLeaks dump could be enough to make that person hit pause for a little while.
Eventually, as with smartphones and social media, consumers might get to a point where they aren’t as concerned about Big Brother watching. But in 2017 that just isn’t the case.
The Personal Security Case
Or is it?
Some people today might tell you they have absolutely no problems with the government watching their every move because “they have nothing to hide.”
While, admittedly, it is a little creepy to think about, I’m not 100 percent against the idea of someone having access to our connected devices—if it’s for national security purposes. That’s not to say I’m 100 percent for it either, but I’m not about to write off the possibility that these hacks have allowed the CIA to thwart some potential attack on our country.
To me, this smells a lot like the VIZIO spying case, with some obvious differences as well. Whereas VIZIO was collecting consumer demographics and selling them to advertisers, the CIA was “checking in on us” to ensure we’re safe. That is, without a doubt, my way of finding the absolute best of a situation that otherwise does not look good for the CIA. But maybe there’s a happy medium there. I know I try to hard to find the good in people, but who wants to believe that our own government would use the information they uncover for anything other than protecting our nation.
Of course, the flip side to this is the idea that this is an excessive overreach by a highly secretive government agency. It looks awful on an international level, could turn allies into enemies, and will absolutely result in countless internal and governmental investigations. The journalist in me understands the public’s-right-to-know argument.
I guess I’m just willing to sacrifice a little bit of privacy for the chance of a little bit of national security.