WikiLeaks on Tuesday published thousands of computer files allegedly belonging to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency that it said pertained to an extensive trove of sophisticated hacking tools used by the spy organization to conduct espionage.
The secret-leaking website said the CIA’s arsenal contained digital weapons that can compromise smartphones, including Apple (AAPL) iPhones and Google (GOOG) Android-powered devices, Microsoft (MSFT) Windows-based computers, and Samsung (SSNLF) “smart” television sets. The dump contained, by WikiLeaks’ count, a total of 8,761 documents and attachments supposedly originating from an “isolated, high-security network” at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
WikiLeaks boasted that its hoard of material—dubbed “Year Zero,” the first release in a series it’s calling “Vault 7″—surpassed the number of documents brought to light by Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor-turned-whistleblower, who went rogue in 2013. The website said the full collection, which “gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA,” spans from 2013 through 2016.
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The CIA neither confirmed nor denied the legitimacy of the leak. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents,” a CIA spokesperson told Fortune in an email.
Although WikiLeaks typically chooses not to comment on its sources, the website suggested that the cache had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.” In another unusual step, the site redacted some personally identifying information contained in the documents, although it warned that its attempts were likely not comprehensive.
WikiLeaks said its source wished to spark an open discussion about the CIA’s mission and oversight that “urgently need to be debated in public.” It added that the source wanted to raise concerns “about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”
In a statement, Julian Assange, the site’s editor echoed the sentiment: “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’,” he said. “Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade.”
Critics have blasted WikiLeaks in recent months for broadcasting what they deemed to be politically charged disinformation during the recent U.S. presidential election, and for publishing hacked documents allegedly stolen by Russian agents. Before leaving office earlier this year, former President Barrack Obama’s administration released a report that described the site as having close ties to the Kremlin.
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Consistent with the tradecraft of the spy world, many of the alleged hacking tools have characteristically colorful codenames, like “Weeping Angel” (for turning a smart TV into an audio bug), “Hammer Drill” (for breaching air-gapped computers with malware-infected CDs and DVDs), and “Fine Dining” (for hijacking computer systems while pretending to do something else like, say, playing a video). The cache of remote exploits is reminiscent of the network-compromising code put up for auction by a shadowy hacker group called the Shadow Brokers last summer.
The leaked information purports also to divulge organizational details about the CIA’s cyber division, called the Center for Cyber Intelligence, a unit with a mandate similar to the NSA and the military’s Cyber Command.
Thomas Rid, a professor who studies information warfare at King’s College London, remarked in a post on Twitter that it was “too early” to tell how harmful the latest alleged leak might be to the U.S. intelligence community’s interests, “but if details on exploits are genuine, then dump could be extremely damaging.”
“This stuff is cool, and I’m sure most would rather plug the holes, but don’t fool yourself, its a setback for counterterrorism,” commented John Hultquist, threat intelligence manager for the cybersecurity firm FireEye (FEYE).
Several security experts commented online that they were less shocked by the number and capabilities of the supposed hacking tools than they were that someone—perhaps some group, or government—had the audacity to steal and leak them in the first place, assuming they are legit.