Report: CIA Hacking Smart TVs, Listening In

John Lister's picture

Leaked documents suggest the CIA has a program for spying on people through home devices such as Smart TVs. However, it appears such attacks are highly targeted and often require physical access to the TVs.

The claims come through a batch of 8,761 documents released by WikiLeaks, which says they come from the CIA. That agency has yet to comment on their authenticity and have not yet been independently verified.

The documents are said to detail some of the tactics the CIA have used to improve digital surveillance. The overall message is that the agency appears to be concentrating more on getting direct access to devices, rather than putting so much emphasis on intercepting data as it travels over the Internet. That's likely because Internet communication is often protected with increasingly strong encryption that it's becoming impractical to decipher.

Malware Installed On Phones

In particular, the CIA is said to have put malware on phones to read sent and received messages on apps that encrypt the data before transmission, such as WhatsApp and Signal. The idea is to access the message at the point it is being read or written when, by definition, it has to be in an unencrypted format.

It also seems the CIA has deliberately sought out and stockpiled vulnerabilities in Apple and Microsoft's software, using these bugs to spy on people rather than alerting the software companies so they can fix the problems. Some of the bugs are said to be detailed in the papers, prompting concern that the software companies will now have to race criminal hackers by fixing them before they can be exploited by people other than the CIA.

Smart TV's Hacked Via USB Port

Among the specific claims are that the CIA has found a way to take advantage of Samsung Smart TV's, which have a voice control feature and an Internet connection. The tactic involves manipulating software so that when the TV is "turned off" it actually remains active and records audio in the room before sending it to the CIA. (Source:

The news isn't necessarily as bad as it seems, however. The documents suggest the CIA isn't able to manipulate the software remotely through the TV's Internet connection. Instead, it's only able to be installed via a USB port, meaning agents would need physical access to a property. In theory that means there's little doubt the fourth amendment applies, something that's not always certain with cyber monitoring. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you believe the documents are genuine? Do any of the 'revelations' surprise you? Is the CIA being irresponsible in keeping security flaws secret from software developers?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I hate to say it but if you don't want spies and governments listening in, you should probably not be around any technology that is "smart" and has a speaker, camera, or a microphone attached to it - including: smart TVs, smartphones, surveillance cameras, computers, laptops, Amazon's Alexa, Google's Home device, and anything electronic made in the last 15 years. It's a sad state of affairs when the government is so interested in hacking devices to eavesdrop on people even if it's technically illegal, though the latter can surely be debated.

couchmt_4698's picture

First, let me say that I'm not going into how I know, but I do know that the intelligence community is not interested in listening into ordinary Americans' electronic devices. They just aren't. And I would place very little value on anything that Wikileaks has to say or "releases" anyway. In fact, there's evidence that they front for the Russian FSB in some cases.

pestleman1951_8812's picture

I'm certainly no big brainer IT guy like yourself Mr Faas, but seems to me if to hack a smart TV "agents would need physical access to a property" to get it done ... What's the real diff between just sticking an old fashioned bug in there ...