Federal Bureau of Investigation probing release of CIA hacking tools by WikiLeaks

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Washington : Federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the public release of a document cache believed to detail CIA hacking tools designed to breach computers, web servers, smartphones and televisions, a US official said.

The official, speaking on anonymity, told USA Today on Wednesday that the inquiry is being coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), following disclosure by WikiLeaks that the CIA Centre for Cyber Intelligence "lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal".

The inquiry, the official said, will seek to determine whether the disclosure represented a breach from the outside or a leak from inside the spy agency. A separate review will attempt to assess the damage caused by such a disclosure, the official said.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on the status of any investigation, though he defended the agency's mission to "aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries".

"The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the intelligence community's ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries," Boyd said.

CIA spokeswoman Heather F. Horniak said: "Such disclosures not only jeopardise US personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm."

White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to confirm the authenticity of the documents, but he said such breaches "should be a major concern", according to the report.

Only weeks before the November election, President Donald Trump lauded WikiLeaks following its publication of correspondence from John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, however, Spicer suggested there was a "difference" between Podesta's hacked emails and the disclosure of classified information, though the theft of both represent possible criminal offences.

WikiLeaks, headed by whistleblower Julian Assange, on Tuesday posted a series of seven batches of leaks, called "Vault 7" and of which the group entitled "Year Zero", including 7,818 pages with 943 attached files, had already been published.

It published the huge batch of secret alleged CIA files, in which hacking tools the government uses to crack users' computers, mobile phones and other devices are discussed in detail.

Meanwhile, Beijing on Thursday urged the US to stop tapping phones, monitoring, spying and launching cyber attacks on China and other countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said during a press conference that China is concerned about the situation and warned that Beijing will firmly safeguard its own cyber security, reported Efe news.

China "is ready to enhance dialogue and cooperation with the international community to formulate a set of international rules on cyberspace acceptable to all parties under the UN framework", said Geng.

The whistleblowing organisation claimed on Twitter that the data dump accounted for less than one per cent of "Vault 7". However, it did not give further information on when more leaks would occur.