Updated from March 8 with comments from Google.
In the moments after notorious whistleblower WikiLeaks released thousands of documents claiming to reveal extensive CIA hacking tactics, consumers, media organizations and cyber security experts alike were equally bewildered by what the leak's implications might be.
WikiLeaks late Tuesday released a collection of documents totaling 7,818 pages with 943 attachments which detail the government's alleged efforts to hack into, monitor and, in some cases, remotely control popular devices including Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iPhones, Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) Android devices and Samsung (SSNLF) smart TVs. In one case, the information dump was labeled as being worse than the leaks orchestrated by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that detailed widespread government surveillance.
The CIA so far has declined to comment on the authenticity of the leaks and also would not comment on the status of any investigation into the documents, officials said in a statement obtained by NBC. The agency instead said Americans should be "deeply troubled" by any WikiLeaks disclosure that threatens its job as the "first line of defense" in protecting the U.S. from enemies abroad, a role that sometimes requires it to be "innovative and cutting-edge."
"Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm," CIA officials said in the statement.
The World Wide Web Foundation, which advocates for internet privacy, said President Donald Trump should be working to "stamp out" the alleged surveillance practices used by the CIA and other government bodies.
"Weaponising everyday products such as TVs and smartphones -- and failing to disclose vulnerabilities to manufacturers -- is dangerous and short-sighted," the organization said in a statement. "This leak itself shows just how likely such tools are to spread beyond the organisation that developed them.
But a wave of cyber security experts argue that consumers and tech companies don't actually have much to worry about, as many of the vulnerabilities identified by WikiLeaks have since been patched by several tech companies. If unpatched, the bugs would have allowed the CIA to access encrypted smartphones.
For its part, Apple said it has already issued hardware and software updates that most likely prevent vulnerability to the kinds of backdoor attacks detailed in the Wikileaks documents.
"Our products and software are designed to quickly get security updates into the hands of our customers, with nearly 80% of users running the latest version of our operating system," the Cupertino, CA-based company told USA Today. "While our initial analysis indicates that many of the issues leaked today were already patched in the latest OS, we will continue to address any identified vulnerabilities."
Alphabet's Google unit took a similar position to Apple, saying software updates have been issued that protect from any alleged targeting by the CIA.
"We're confident that security updates and protections in both Chrome and Android already shield users from many of these alleged vulnerabilities," said Heather Adkins, Google's director of information security and privacy, in a statement. "Our analysis is ongoing and we will implement any further necessary protections."
In the documents released by WikiLeaks, a section titled "iOS Exploits Data" lists a dozen unpatched bugs that span from iOS 4 through 9.2 and were released between 2010 and 2015. Will Strafach, CEO of Sudo Security Group, which specializes in finding "zero-day" mobile exploits, or software flaws that can be exploited by hackers, said he reviewed the leaks extensively and found no evidence of information that could be used by attackers to hack average users' smartphones.
"These are mostly old vulnerabilities and tricks," Strafach explained.
Other Silicon Valley companies who were supposedly targeted said they were investigating the claims made in the WikiLeaks dump. WikiLeaks said in a statement that the CIA "runs a very substantial effort" to infect and control Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) Windows users with malware. A Microsoft spokesperson said the software giant is aware of the report and is looking into it.
Another leaked document claims that government officials can spy on individuals through their Samsung smart TVs by allegedly using the integrated microphone as a listening device. In a statement, Samsung said protecting consumers' privacy and the security of its devices is a "top priority."
"We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter," the company added.
WikiLeaks also claims that the CIA has the ability to bypass encryption technologies used by popular messaging services such as Facebook's (FB - Get Report) WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, among others. WikiLeaks alleged that intelligence officials may be able to hack into the smartphones those services run on and collect audio and message data before they are encrypted, WikiLeaks alleges. A WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement that they are reviewing the content.
Open Whisper Systems, another encrypted messaging app, said in a series of tweets that the CIA isn't directly hacking into apps such as WhatsApp or Signal, but is instead bypassing security barriers set up by iOS and Android to install malware on smartphones, thereby allowing them access to other apps installed on a users' phone.
As with the leaks orchestrated by Edward Snowden, many consumers became concerned that government agencies might abuse their ability to gain unfettered access to consumer devices and data, including phone calls and web cameras.
"Even if you are actually concerned about the CIA targeting your phone, by design they would need a very good justification for doing so in order to avoid [vulnerabilities being closed]," Strafach added. "The only proper play is to use exploits when absolutely necessary rather than using them indiscriminately, which I think is a great counterbalance to have in place as it can ensure everyone stays honest."
Apple itself has long opposed government efforts to obtain access to encrypted phones. In 2016, the FBI asked Apple to help it access the contents of the San Bernardino shooters' locked iPhone, to which CEO Tim Cook vehemently resisted.
If anything, WikiLeaks' latest information dump may better arm tech juggernauts like Apple, Google and Microsoft against any further sophisticated and potentially disastrous hacking attempts.
"Wikileaks disclosed documents, not...code, and vendors are in a much better position to read those documents and write patches over the coming days," said Dan Guido, CEO of digital security firm Trail of Bits, by email. "As a hacker, it might take weeks or months before they could fully under and replicate any of the capabilities that the CIA had (and even then, only partially) and by that time the vendor would have already deployed a patch or other mitigations."