Samsung UN65ES8000; group photo © Byron

As the HD Guru first warned you back in 2012: your TV can be hacked to spy on you.

WikiLeaks Tuesday exposed the hidden dangers that might lurk in your smart TV with the release of secret documents showing that the CIA has devised a means of listening in on owners of Samsung smart TVs, and conceivably other devices, through built-in mics used to collect voice commands.

WikiLeaks published an assortment of documents Tuesday that it said reveal some of the sneaky tricks employed by the CIA’s hacking programs including a claim that the agency can hack into consumers’ personal electronic devices — specifically Samsung smart TVs — and listen in on private conversations without the users’ knowledge.

The alleged program, called “Weeping Angel,” was said in a WikiLeaks statement to have been developed in association with British spy agency MI5. It places hacking software in the device to keep microphones (these are typically in the remote control of Samsung TVs) active after the user thinks the television has been shut off.

“After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a `Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on,” reads a statement from WikiLeaks announcing the latest documents posting. “In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

If the release is authentic, it would be the latest in a series of sensitive document dumps that have rocked government agencies and corporations allegedly engaging is questionable activities. It is said to be one of the largest releases of documents from the CIA, specifically, to date.

Read more on the Wikileaks smart TV eavesdropping release after the jump:

In its press release, WikiLeaks said a huge collection of hacking tools and documents had been circulating among “former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

Wikileaks called the latest documents dump Vault 7, and the initial release included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments. Wikileaks added that more are to follow.

In a statement on the matter, the consumer electronics company issued a statement saying: “Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung. We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.”

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In 2015, Samsung warned users that its smart TVs have built-in microphones and are at risk of picking up private conversations. “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,” the Samsung privacy policy reads.

HD Guru brought up the possibility that Smart TV cameras and mics were capable of being hacked back in 2012. That report was later followed by a statement from New York Sen. Charles Schumer affirming the possibility and revealing that he had issued a letter to TV manufacturers asking them to adopt new security in TV sets to protect against such hacking.

Since then, most smart TV manufacturers have taken cameras out of their televisions altogether, but microphones remain a key tool for more convenient interactivity between users and the device interface. This has also led to the development of devices with similar capabilities, and presumably vulnerabilities, like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa Echo speakers that are essentially left on in the home 24/7 to pick up user questions and execute various smart home activities.

The documents also detail how the CIA has discovered and exploited serious vulnerabilities in Android and Apple smartphones without disclosing them to the device manufacturers.


By Greg Tarr


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