Athena Malware: The CIA in Your PC

If you’ve seen a suspense/thriller movie lately, a lot of them have to do with government authorities taking control of different private sector systems, and usually with nefarious purposes. Until recently, that’s seemed a little far-fetched, and perhaps a product of the conspiracy theorist groups out there. However, the news this week seems to indicate that it isn’t that far-fetched after all.  Wikileaks has recently exposed a CIA malware project, which, at face value, sounds like a cool project but at the same time might give you goose bumps if you’re one of those using a Windows OS. This CIA malware project Athena is designed for spying and hacking. Athena malware is the brainchild of CIA and Siege Technologies, a company located in New Hampshire, US.

Apparently, the Athena malware can hijack Windows versions starting from XP to Windows 10, and everything in between. This malware also consists of an additional module called Hera, which affects PCs running Windows 8 to Windows 10.  The capabilities of Athena malware are mind blowing. Once Athena malware is set on the target system, it can decode remote configuration and task handling.  It can load or unload memories of NOD Persistence Specification DLLs. In addition, it can deliver and retrieve information to and from any directory.  These tools would give control of machines to the CIA completely and they definitely highlight the power of what technology can do. However, at the same time it also gives us a reason to pause and think of the impact of its power.  And if you think this level of government control is concerning, here is the most concerning part of all – it lets the operator configure during runtime on the system and thus cannot be detected. The malware can be delivered in a number of different ways including remotely, through a supply chain, through an asset on the ground, or with a program called Windex (which was explained in earlier WikiLeaks releases).

The Siege Technology founder said in an interview in 2014, “I feel more comfortable working on electronic warfare,” he said. “It’s a little different than bombs and nuclear weapons — that’s a morally complex field to be in. Now instead of bombing things and having collateral damage, you can really reduce civilian casualties, which is a win for everybody.” The contractor sees the value of cyber warfare on this sort of scale as a way to control the on-the-ground warfare and limit damage and casualties to civilian populations.

Whether this new malware is used or not, the reality that all the Windows OS machines in the world can be pretty easily turned into CIA hand puppets is a little disconcerting. Whatever your views on net neutrality and net privacy, this new report from Wikileaks will make you pause and think. Further, such powerful tools in the hands of those who are not seeking international security could be a massive danger and risk for the world populace. The CIA justifies this, but is clearly upset by the recent disclosure.

Check out some more Malware related articles here.

Jon Buck
Jon Buck
Jon Buck is based in Delhi, India. He enjoys researching, analyzing, and commenting on the cutting edge of the technology world, as well as palak paneer with veg fried rice.

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