Wikileaks has been making headlines every now and then for quite some years by releasing several critical and sensitive confidential documents from various sources. One of the very recent and sensational leaks after the US Cablegate diplomatic cable leaks, was the ‘Vaulte 7’, which revealed details of the surveillance program of National Security Agency (NSA), feared to have hacked into the personal accounts of millions of users worldwide.
The PRISM surveillance program
The recent year events have put the security of millions of internet users at threat, which started off when Wikileaks whistleblower let out a trail of secret documents as Cablegate leaks and those pertaining to the National Security Agency, as a part of the US Agency’s PRISM (FAA702) operations. The leak reported that the operation collected information and data directly from the servers of major Silicon Valley tech powers like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Apple, PalTalk, AOL, Skype etc in the year 2013. Lately software vendors such as the one that provides the HBSwiss online trading app started working on better privacy for their products.
This broad intelligence program from the US and UK governments targets chats (both audio and video), photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs to track foreign users.
Though many of the companies like Facebook have responded by saying there has been no such security breech and only requested information was provided and not any direct access. The company spokespersons were reported saying that they were unaware of any such operations, and denied giving any back-door entries for the Agency. The major chunk of online communication flows through the US servers, which helps in the data mining. However, contrary to this, NSA lawyers were reported to say that the US tech giants were aware of the data collection and also assisted in the process.
The immediate impact on the tech companies
The program forces the tech giants to act as extensions of the US surveillance apparatus. In early 2015, news of mass hacking of Yahoo mails was published by Wikileaks. Yahoo reportedly modified spam and malware filters to scan all incoming email messages of Yahoo mail account holders in response to the court order which were then made available to US intelligence.
In October 2016, Julian Assange announced that the next revelation from the organization was on Google. In the second half of March this year, Wikileaks released news announcing that the organization has in hand important documents regarding the Silicon Valley tech giants, which can again threaten the security of users in the wake of zero-day. He said that these documents could be disclosed any time and has informed the tech giants to take actions for protecting the users against potential CIA malware. The organization has put forward certain conditions to be obliged by the companies if they wanted Wikileaks to share information regarding the vulnerabilities, and assist in fixing them.
How the customer base has been negatively impacted
The Wikileaks revelation that the CIA can access any kind of information on the mails, social media and even smartphones, iPhones and TVs has not only affected the customer credentials, but also the credibility of the companies’ products. This has anyway led to some kind of urgency within the companies. Their statements report of immediate checking and fixation of any kind of loopholes and software patches. The companies are expected to continue the process of fixing as Wikileaks documents continue to be released.
- Yahoo and other tech giants were forced to scan all incoming messages in real-time. Now they will have to release more and more patches every week.
- By targeting all accounts instead of just the accounts of suspects has made more than 500 million Yahoo Mail users supposedly guilty.
- The privacy of millions of non-US users worldwide was violated since all mails, messages, and personal data were scanned.
- More importantly, the leaked information can backfire, since they are in the public domain now. The data can become toxic to the future operation of the companies.