News World


Is your TV watching you?

By Liz Braun, Postmedia Network

Toronto Sun files

Toronto Sun files

Nietzsche was right — if thou gaze long into a television, the television will also gaze into thee.

Something like that.

Recent disclosures from Wikileaks seem to make it abundantly clear that privacy of any kind is now a thing of the past.

All your household tech devices can be used to spy on you.

The most recent WikiLeaks document dump reveals that hackers working for the CIA can spy on you by breaking into ordinary devices such as phones or “smart” televisions.

And don’t think encrypting your communications will protect you.

Samsung smart TVs were a special topic in the Wikileak papers. A tactic known as Weeping Angel (possibly named after a villain on Doctor Who) allegedly permits hackers to get into the Samsung televisions and turn them into listening devices. A targeted TV set gets a “Fake Off” mode; the owner thinks the set is off, but it’s still on — recording conversations and transmitting them to a CIA server.


And here’s our favourite bit: the CIA is interested in hacking cars and, “Infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks.” They don’t say why, but as WikiLeaks points out, it would allow them to carry out “nearly undetectable assassinations.”

You know, if they wanted to.

Shades of James Bond.

(Actually, that’s a fib — this is our favourite bit: “As an example, specific CIA malware ... is able to penetrate, infest and control both the Android phone and iPhone software that runs or has run presidential Twitter accounts.” Somebody could have big fun with that.)

Is there any good news in all this?

Only that if the CIA has remotely taken control of your phone and used it against you, you must be worth surveilling.

Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t bother.

Every time they use their cyber tricks, they risk being found out — giving manufacturers such as Apple the chance to fix the technical glitch that allowed the attack in the first place.

On that front, fugitive and WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange says he intends to give tech companies, such as Apple, Samsung and Google, first crack at information about the specific CIA hacking tools WikiLeaks uncovered; that lets the companies fix the very glitches and vulnerabilities quietly stockpiled by the CIA to use for hacking and spying. Response to Assange’s offer has been mixed. Some say much of the information is dated and uninteresting; others in the tech world are inclined to distrust Assange.

At any rate, Assange has been brutal in his assessment of how badly the CIA has screwed up with all of this.

The agency, he said in a recent videoconference, lost control of its entire cyber-weapons arsenal: “An historic act of devastating incompetence.”

That arsenal, he said, “Attacks most of the systems that journalists, people in government, politicians, CEOs, and average people use.”

Got that? “Average people.” You. Me. Etc.

By the way, documents from WikiLeaks suggest that the CIA was swapping cyber info back and forth with such allies as Canada, Australia and the UK.

Have we become the surveillance society of Science Fiction?

Time to take action!

Wrap your head in tinfoil, get into bed, and throw the covers over your face.

Big Brother living in your home

Remember The Jetsons on TV?

They had a robot maid named Rosie, and all those years ago, having a machine run your household seemed so futuristic. And now it’s here.

Amazon Echo and Google Home are digital personal assistants that run your house for you. They’re voice activated and sort of like Siri, only more so.

Amazon Echo features an “assistant,” named Alexa, who is always listening. When you say the command word, “Alexa,” she awakes and awaits your orders.

What can Alexa do? Play the music you want, tell you the weather, get a taxi, turn off the lights, open the garage door, explain quantum physics and remove your appendix.

OK, maybe not all those things, but these home devices can run the place and organize your life based on your vocal commands.

Alexa is always listening, although only your interactions with her and a nanosecond of material prior to the command word are actually recorded and transmitted.

And anything you ask Alexa is encrypted as it is transmitted to servers. (See above about encryption. Just sayin’.)

Soon, Alexa knows all your preferences, shopping and dining habits, ideas about music and entertainment and a whole lot more.

Hmmm ...

On the privacy front, an Echo is currently involved in a murder case.

Amazon will release user data from an Echo as part of an Arkansas murder investigation involving a man found dead in a hot tub.

The accused killer (who has pleaded not guilty) agreed to let Amazon release data from his Echo; who knows if anything useful will be found?

Meanwhile, detectives got a lead from another household gizmo — the smart meter that collected and transmitted data hourly about water and electricity use. According to the Washington Post, a huge uptick in water use in the middle of the night, “consistent with spraying down the back patio area,” may be an important clue in the case.

Remember worrying that Big Brother was watching you?

Friend, Big Brother has taken up permanent residence in your home.

You invited him in.