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The CIA Spied on People Through Their Smart TVs, Leaked Documents Reveal

Hackers from the CIA found a way to keep Samsung Smart TVs on “Fake-Off mode.”

Image: ChrisPerriman/Flickr

Hackers at the Central Intelligence Agency, with the help of colleagues from the British spy agency MI5, developed malware to secretly spy on targets through their Samsung Smart TVs, according to new documents published by WikiLeaks.

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks dumped a large cache of documents allegedly coming from the CIA's hacking unit. Julian Assange's organization dubbed the release, which it says it's the first in a series, as "Vault 7," and billed it as the largest-ever of confidential CIA intelligence documents.  

"Weeping Angel already hooks key presses [...] to cause the system to enter Fake-Off rather than Off."

The CIA and MI5 called the project to spy on Samsung Smart TVs "Weeping Angel," perhaps a reference to Doctor Who, where weeping angels are "the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life-form ever produced." The malware was designed to keep the smart TVs on even when they were turned off. This was dubbed "Fake-Off mode," according to the documents. The CIA hackers even developed a way to "suppress" the TVs LED indicators to improve the "Fake-Off" mode.

"Weeping Angel already hooks key presses from the remote (or TV goes to sleep) to cause the system to enter Fake-Off rather than Off," one of the leaked document reads. "Since the implant is already hooking these events, the implant knows when the TV will be entering Fake-Off mode."

After this article was published, Samsung reacted with a statement. 

"Protecting consumers' privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung," read the statement sent via email. "We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter."

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Security researchers have long warned that smart TVs could be used to covertly tap their owner's conversations. In 2013, two white hat hackers found that several models of Samsung Smart TVs could be compromised giving attackers the chance to turn on the camera, the microphone and even control the TVs apps, such as Facebook or Skype.

Samsung itself is aware of these risks. In its privacy policy, the company warned customers to 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 language reminded some of the George Orwell classic dystopian novel 1984.

Once again, if something is potentially hackable, hackers will try to break into it. Or as some say, if you build it, they will come.

This article was updated to include Samsung's statement.

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