What is Scribbles?

It is evident there are quite a few law enforcement tools consumers and enterprises need to be aware of moving forward. New WikiLeaks information has surfaced which discusses a tool called Scribbles. Apparently, the CIA can use this tool to track documents. This tool is often used to keep tabs on whistleblowers and journalists receiving sensitive information.

Scribbles Can Be A Very Powerful Tool

It has to be said, learning about the Scribbles tool is quite disconcerting. It is not surprising the CIA – and probably other law enforcement agencies as well – have access to these tools. What is of particular concern is how the CIA can track documents sent out to whistleblowers and journalists, allowing the agency to know who is given sensitive information at what time.

To be more specific, the Scribbles tool embeds a web beacon tag into watermarks found in Microsoft Word documents. By using this method, the documents will provide valuable information in the form of document analytics back to the CIA during regular intervals. This information is part of WikiLeaks’ ongoing Vault 7 Dark Matter release.

According to the WikiLeaks information, there is also a user manual describing Scribbles and how it can be used. It appears the CIA can utilize this tool to generate copies of identical files, yet embed a different watermark in all of them. Having a hidden tool that can report the opening of particular documents back to the CIA, including the IP address used by the computer opening it, is quite worrisome, to say the least.

What is rather peculiar is how Scribbles only seems to work with Microsoft Office documents. Word or Excel files generated by Google Drive, for example, are seemingly impervious to this watermarking tool. That is rather interesting, although it is possible this tool is capable of wreaking much more havoc than we are currently aware of.  Moreover, it appears the CIA tool will not work on encrypted or password-protected documents either.

While it is true protecting sensitive documents from theft is absolutely necessary, the way the CIA goes about it raises a lot of questions. For the time being, the intelligence agency has not issued any official comment regarding the WikiLeaks revelation. That is not surprising by any means, as the CIA will never officially acknowledge these tools exist or are actively used.

Luckily, it appears this problem only affects older versions of Microsoft Office. Anyone using Office 2013 and newer – or even Office 365 – should be protected against this watermarking tool. Scribbles is made possible because older versions of Office allow users to embed remote objects in documents. Unfortunately, a lot of companies still use older versions of Microsoft Office, which means they are all susceptible to the Scribbles “attack”.

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