Earlier this morning I heard an NPR report claiming that Wikileaks was redacting the source code associated with these hacking tools. I'm not sure if that is correct; I've found a few files with executable scripts included, but none of the scripts I've found so far are essentially malicious (although they were almost certainly used in the development and packaging of malware). I have found indications that Wikileaks redacted exploit files that were ready for as-is distribution. For example, the files I reviewed in the dump appear to be part of an internal wiki. I reviewed a file list associated with one of the users registered for the wiki (https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/cms/page_14588675.html); clicking through the link for a file named '~02.2.3.tmp` - https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/cms/files/~02.2.3.tmp - provided me with this:
::: THIS BINARY FILE IS STILL BEING EXAMINED BY WIKILEAKS. ::: ::: IT MAY BE RELEASED IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WHAT FOLLOWS IS ::: ::: AN AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED DUMP OF ITS ATTRIBUTES: ::: File: ~02.2.3.tmp MIME: application/x-dosexec; charset=binary Size: 389632
I have taken significant issue with Wikileaks in the past. My complaints have focused entirely on Wikileaks' unwillingness to remove dangerous (and almost certainly state-sponsored) malicious software from document dumps. The example I cited above is the first time I have ever seen any indication that Wikileaks removed malware from a dump. Unfortunately, this particular editorial decision is of substantially less value then the requests I repeatedly made to Wikileaks to inform their users of the presence of infected files within and older document dump that they continue to publish through the wikileaks.org website. The censored malware files in Vault7 were contextually and obviously labelled as malware. The malware I found in earlier Wikileaks dumps included infected document files that were in many cases completely indistinguishable from normal document files and in several cases not detectable for a substantial variety of antivirus platforms.
If you are a journalist or concerned citizen preparing to begin reviewing the Vault 7 document dump, I strongly advise you to take strong security measures prior to beginning your review:
1. Assume every file in the dump contains a malicious file & govern yourself accordingly. The principle here is similar to the sort of "universal precautions" utilized by medical professionals. This includes files that you may not think of as having the ability to infect your computer with malware, such as text documents, images, spreadsheets and PDFs.
2. Download & inspect the documents using a computer dedicated to the task. An operating system designed for secure analysis of malware should be used, such as Kali Linux or TAILS. There is compelling evidence that Microsoft provides state-sponsored attackers with backdoors to the Windows OS. After downloading the files, completely disable the internet connectivity for your review computer by disabling (or even disconnecting) any network interfaces.
The inspection of malware is a complex topic that can't be covered in a single post, however the consequences of insecure handling of documents infected with state-sponsored malware are serious - while the advantages of safe handling are substantial. Would you feel comfortable providing a list of your sources to a random government intelligence service? Every reporter I have discussed the issue with feels a strong sense of responsibility for protecting their sources, up to and including a willingness to face incarceration. Securing your IT tools is not as dramatic as saying "No" to a judge threatening you with contempt, but for many sources the threat posed by an intelligence service dwarfs that of a court. Arrest is bad; being "disappeared" is worse.
The average reporter would not defend herself from a finding of contempt of court - newsrooms invest substantially in legal resources under the calculation that protecting the sources and first amendment rights of journalists serves the both the bottom line & cultural interests of newspapers. Likewise, newsrooms must now consider the expense of an on-staff or consulting systems administrator with a background in security as a cost of doing business. Its not a happy thought, but this is the world we now live in: a world where every communication is spied on, documented, indexed and stored, secretly; and it has been for many years.
So thats the stick. What about the carrot? Malicious software contained within the files is as much a part of the story as the files themselves. Sourcecode comments and filesystem metadata can provide important clues related to the authors of, history behind and justification for distributing data. A thorough investigation of leak files can be the sole opportunity to reveal the true story behind a leak; the alternative, in the absence of communication with the true source of the leak, is to print a summary of a Wikileaks press release supplemented by a Government press release.