According to WikiLeaks, a code was released to the public that comes from the CIA’s Vault 7. The code, known as Scribbles, was designed by the CIA to keep a close eye on documents that can be leaked to spies and journalists. The CIA-owned software enabled the agency to mark the document with an electronic beacon hidden in the watermark. This beacon then sent analytics back to the agency.
WikiLeaks published the information about Scribbles last month, along with the software source code and its user manual.
The manual describes Scribbles’ work, and in it, it also highlights how the tool can be used to create copies of files with different watermarks – including the one we mentioned earlier. The manual also describes the web beacon, a transparent image or piece of text that signals back to the host server of the system it was used on.
Julian Assange’s platform also explains that Scribbles only works with Microsoft Office products. The manual also sheds light on the fact that it was tested on several versions of Microsoft Office, including the 2013 version running Windows 8. However, it is not limited to that version of MS Office. It was also tested on versions such as MS Office 97 all the way through to the latest version – they were all successful in pinging back to the host server.
The documents also revealed that if the Scribbled watermarked documents are opened on software such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice, the software might reveal information such as the watermarks and the URLs to the users.
An agency spokesperson, who directly declined to speak about Scribbles and other documents, stated on the official CIA webpage:
“We have no comment on the authenticity of purported intelligence documents released by Wikileaks or on the status of any investigation into the source of the documents. However, there are several critical points we would like to make. CIA’s mission is to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries. It is CIA’s job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defence in protecting this country from enemies abroad. America deserves nothing less.”
The agency then went on to say that WikiLeaks damaged and disclosed the strategy and technology used by the CIA to protect the American people.
“Such disclosures not only jeopardise U.S. personnel and operations but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm,” read the official press release from the CIA.
Meanwhile, people at Microsoft say that, by design, their software supports rich content. However, those who are using the latest versions of Microsoft Office, such as Office 365, need not worry because those documents, by default, will open in protected viewing, meaning the information won’t be sent through the networks.
WikiLeaks highlights that Scribbles was designed to stop insiders, spies, journalists, and others from leaking documents. Therefore, if we view it as a code that simply protects sensitive information from the enemies, then Scribbles isn’t a big deal.
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