New reports today say it was a National Security Agency employee, not a a contractor, whose home machine running Kaspersky Lab antivirus was hacked for classified files.
New reports on the latest NSA classified data breach revealed yesterday paint the source of the leak as an actual employee of the spy agency, not a contractor, as was originally reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The Washington Post in its reporting described the NSA employee who loaded classified NSA files onto his home computer that in turn was hacked by Russian cyber spies in 2015, as a Vietnam-born US citizen who had been part of the NSA’s famed Tailored Access Operations (TAO) hacking team. The employee, who was removed from his position in 2015, was working on a project to create new TAO tools in the wake of former NSA contractor’s Edwards Snowden’s theft and leak of TAO tools in 2013; the new tools were among the files pilfered by Russian nation-state hackers.
A New York Times report also characterized the targeted man as an NSA employee.
Word of the breach first came yesterday in a Wall Street Journal report, which said the hack of classified cyberattack and defense tools occurred via Kaspersky Lab antivirus software on the NSA employee’s home computer, where the AV flagged the NSA cyberspying tools and code. The breach wasn’t detected until the spring of 2016, and wasn’t known publicly until the WSJ report.
Security experts say the reports raise more questions than answers about how the attack actually occurred. Matthieu Suiche, founder of Comae Technologies and an expert on the mysterious Shadow Brokers group, points out that it apparently took the NSA six months to discover the incident.
Suiche told Dark Reading that it’s “hard to say” if there’s a connection to the NSA exploits held and leaked by Shadow Brokers. He says he’s unclear how investigators tied the NSA data leak to the Kaspersky Lab software specifically, and whether the attacker had an exploit for the AV software.
“It can be a man-in-the-middle or even vulnerability itself” used to steal the files, he notes.