No Such Thing as “Absolute Privacy”
If it isn’t President Donald Trump accusing former-President Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones in Trump Tower, then maybe it is WikiLeaks releasing information on a CIA project that allows your smart television to hear conversations or perhaps it is Kellyanne Conway telling mainstream media sources that a microwave could be a spy. No matter your source, there are definitely some stories about spying that are leading Americans to question their level of privacy. Let’s talk about it.
Let’s start with the first, and most likely the biggest story in the mainstream news about spying: President Trump accusing former-President Obama of “tapping” the phones in Trump Tower.
“Terrible! Just found out Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” the president’s tweet said.
The accusation came on Saturday, March 4 and was followed by a storm of Obama administration advisors denouncing the alleged wiretapping. Very soon after the allegations, Director of the FBI, James Comey, told a Boston College conference on cybersecurity that there is no such thing as “absolute privacy.” This has led many people to fear that they may have their “wires tapped” as well.
Here’s how a wiretap is ordered and implemented:
In order for a wiretap to be properly executed an application needs to be filled out and a judge must approve the request, according to U.S. Code. Each application has to include the identity of the investigative or law enforcement officer making the application, a statement of facts and circumstances that justify the order being issued, a statement as to whether or not other investigative procedure have been tried and failed, a timeframe for tapping, and a statement on what will happen with results of the inception of electronic communications.
From there, a judge may require the applicant to “furnish testimony or documentary evidence in support of the application” and a communication source should not be intercepted for longer than 30 days if it isn’t necessary. A judge must be kept in the loop about the results of the wiretap.
A person can only have their communication lines intercepted if there is probable cause for believe that an individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a particular offense enumerated in section 2516 of chapter 18, there is probable cause for belief that particular communications concerning that offense will be obtained through interception, normal investigative procedures have been tried and failed or reasonable appear to be unlikely to succeed if tried or there is probable cause that a facility where the wire will be placed is in connection with the commission of such offense.
So unless you are suspected of committing some pretty heinous crimes, you shouldn’t have to worry about the result of a government mandated wiretap.
Within just three days of President Trump’s tweet about wiretapping, WikiLeaks released Vault7. If proven to be from the CIA, Vault7 could be one of the biggest releases of confidential documents ever. Inside this release, evidence of a program called “Weeping Angel” could be found.
Weeping Angel is described to be a way to use Samsung Smart TVs as covert listening devices, according to the WikiLeaks documents. CIA agents are allegedly able to listen in even when the television set appears to be turned off. The documents show that it is still on and listening to conversations around it and sending it to the agents.
It must be noted that this hack only applies to particular Samsung Smart TVs that were produced in 2012 and 2013 that feature outdated firmware versions 1111, 1112, and 1116. Based on this information, it is easy to assume that this exploit could only affect a small amount of people.
However, if you are one of those with a Samsung Smart TV from 2012 of 2013 with outdated firmware 1111, 1112, or 1116 there are some steps you can take to make sure you aren’t getting faked out by the “Fake Off mode.”
- If Fake Off mode is on, the television will appear to be off, but the blue light on the back of the set will stay illuminated. Check to make sure all lights on the television are off.
- Disconnect your TV from the internet if you really feel like if could be used to pick up conversations around you. Without a connection to the internet, hackers cannot possibly get to your television.
- If you really, really want to disable your screen from doing anything, just unplug it.
Over the weekend, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, sat down with Bradd Jaffy of MSNBC to talk about the president’s allegations of wiretapping. When Conway was asked if she had any evidence to support the president’s claims, she said the following:
“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately. There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets – microwaves being turned into cameras, etc. – so we know that is just a fact of modern life,” Conway said.
So, first thing first, there is no evidence that someone could use your microwave to monitor you and your kitchen. While internet-connected microwaves do exist, and could be hacked into, they are not widely adopted by the everyday consumer as of now.
Cameras that use microwave radiation do exist, but these devices are not something that you might mistake for a microwave.
The bottom line is that Conway is correct, there are multiple ways for a hacker to take advantage of vulnerabilities in software to spy on someone, but if you are taking every precaution to keep yourself safe, and you aren’t a part of some conspiracy to commit a crime, you shouldn’t have to worry.
Posted on Mar 14, 2017