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Ex-CIA hacker convicted of WikiLeaks data crime

A former CIA designer of hacking tools has been found guilty of leaking thousands of confidential files by a federal court in New York, two years after the original case against him was dropped.

Joshua Schulte, 33, said by prosecutors to be a disgruntled employee bearing a grudge, sent the agency’s most highly prized hacking toolkit – known as Vault 7 – to WikiLeaks, whose founder Julian Assange faces extradition to the US.

The 2017 incident, which saw 8,761 documents leaked, was regarded by the CIA as one of the worst losses of classified information ever in its history.

Vault 7 was described by Security Week as a “collection of malware, viruses, trojans, and zero-day exploits that, once leaked out, were available for use by foreign intelligence groups, hackers and cyber extortionists around the world.”

The leaked data caused the CIA considerable embarrassment, exposing the spy body’s targeting of popular platforms such as Apple’s IoS and Google’s Android in covert overseas operations. It also demonstrated the agency’s capacity to turn internet-connected devices into wiretap-style bugs that would allow it to listen in on conversations.

The authorities fingered Schulte shortly after WikiLeaks began publishing the data, but chose to charge him on the quiet – and only then with the unrelated offence of possessing child pornography.

Only later did the court bring charges against him under the Espionage Act, but these were dropped after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

But on July 13 a new jury convicted Schulte on eight charges of espionage, each of which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.

"Schulte was aware that the collateral damage of his retribution could pose an extraordinary threat to this nation if made public," said US attorney Damian Williams, adding that his exposure of the hacking tools “rendered them essentially useless.”

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