A Russian intelligence front, masquerading as a cybersecurity expert firm, is claiming the NSA released its own secret hacking code.
A hacking collective calling itself Shadow Brokers claims it hacked the NSA, and is selling its cutting edge espionage malware to the highest bidder. The NSA uses malware to spy on network gear that most government agencies and companies rely on to conduct business.
Cybersecurity experts now believe the NSA wasn’t hacked, but was actually infiltrated by a Kremlin spy. Dave Aitel, a former NSA research scientist, told Paul Szoldra of Business Insider the top-secret malware was likely stolen from the NSA on a USB stick smuggled out of the building.
“It’s much more plausible that NSA has a Kremlin mole (or moles) lurking in its ranks who stole this information and passed it to Russian intelligence for later use,” John Schindler, an NSA veteran and cybersecurity expert, wrote Wednesday in the New York Observer.
Schindler noted the leaked material dates to nearly three years ago, and is not actually operationally damaging to NSA operations. Furthermore, he noted the hackers at the NSA would not be careless enough to leave the NSA malware on hacked servers.
Szoldra believes that publicly releasing valuable NSA malware makes little sense. Hackers routinely sell illegally obtained information, but go to lengths to keep their hacks secret. The information they sell that can be used is only valuable when the hacked party isn’t aware they are vulnerable.
The old nature of the information and the public release indicate the Kremlin is likely trying to embarrass the U.S. and NSA. The tactic exactly mimics Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee, and dissemination through Wikileaks. U.S. intelligence officials now consider Wikileaks a propaganda arm of Russian intelligence agencies.
Even NSA fugitive Edward Snowden speculated Tuesday on Twitter about the Kremlin’s responsibility for the hack. Snowden stated, “Circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility.” He continued that the leak was likely disseminated to allow foreign governments to prove the U.S. hacked its systems by tracing the released malware.
Schindler characterized the leak as a “warning shot across the agency’s bow not to reveal too much of what it knows to the public about Russian cyber-espionage and covert action.” If the NSA released information definitively linking Russia to the DNC hack, Russia could counter with information which could equally embarrass the NSA.
The U.S. became embroiled in an international incident, after Snowden’s leaks revealed the NSA hacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone. Merkel publicly compared the NSA to East Germany’s old spy apparatus and demanded an apology from President Barack Obama.
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