Russian hackers managed to steal National Security Agency (NSA) data on how the U.S. hacks into foreign networks by making use of the Russian-made antivirus software Kaspersky.
These Russian hackers, working on behalf of the Kremlin, stole code from the home computer of an NSA contractor after he took highly classified data back from NSA networks and stored it at his residence, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Confirming worries about the vulnerabilities and potential backdoors inherent in the Russian-made antivirus software, these hackers obtained computer code used by the NSA for spying on foreign networks, which not only diminishes the ability of U.S. cyber espionage efforts, but also gives the Russian government a potent weapon to deploy against the U.S. and other countries.
Investigators on the case believe that Russia became aware of NSA files through Kaspersky’s file scanning abilities, which may have detected the computer code as a virus. How that data then apparently came into the hands of Russian hackers is unknown, but it’s possible Kaspersky employees passed that virus signature information and files onto the Russian government. It’s also unknown why the NSA contractor, whose name is not publicly known, took highly classified data back to his home computer. Officials do not believe that the contractor had been working on behalf of a foreign government.
U.S. officials first became aware of the breach in the spring of 2016, which counts as the first known instance where Kaspersky’s software has been exploited to provide access to sensitive U.S. government data. The data theft has not been publicly disclosed.
Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of the company, has already derided the story as a “conspiracy theory.”
Kaspersky Lab said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that it “has not been provided any information or evidence substantiating this alleged incident, and as a result, we must assume that this is another example of a false accusation.”
Back in September, the Department of Homeland Security banned the use of Kaspersky across the entire federal government for fear of Russian hackers taking advantage of potential hidden backdoors in the software to gain access to data. The DHS gave agencies a timeline to eliminate use of the antivirus software. Kaspersky in response has protested that it has no “inappropriate ties” to the Russian government.
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