The NSA was badly hacked in 2013, and we’re just now learning about it.
A group of hackers called “The Shadow Brokers” claim to have hacked the NSA, and are posting data to prove it. The data is source code from “The Equation Group,” which is a sophisticated piece of malware exposed last year and attributed to the NSA. Some details:
The Shadow Brokers claimed to have hacked the Equation Group and stolen some of its hacking tools. They publicized the dump on Saturday, tweeting a link to the manifesto to a series of media companies.
The dumped files mostly contain installation scripts, configurations for command and control servers, and exploits targeted to specific routers and firewalls. The names of some of the tools correspond with names used in Snowden documents, such as “BANANAGLEE” or “EPICBANANA.”
Nicholas Weaver has analyzed the data and believes it real:
But the proof itself, appear to be very real. The proof file is 134 MB of data compressed, expanding out to a 301 MB archive. This archive appears to contain a large fraction of the NSA’s implant framework for firewalls, including what appears to be several versions of different implants, server side utility scripts, and eight apparent exploits for a variety of targets.
The exploits themselves appear to target Fortinet, Cisco, Shaanxi Networkcloud Information Technology (sxnc.com.cn) Firewalls, and similar network security systems. I will leave it to others to analyze the reliability, versions supported, and other details. But nothing I’ve found in either the exploits or elsewhere is newer than 2013.
Because of the sheer volume and quality, it is overwhelmingly likely this data is authentic. And it does not appear to be information taken from comprised systems. Instead the exploits, binaries with help strings, server configuration scripts, 5 separate versions of one implant framework, and all sort of other features indicate that this is analyst-side code—the kind that probably never leaves the NSA.
I agree with him. This just isn’t something that can be faked in this way. (Good proof would be for The Intercept to run the code names in the new leak against their database, and confirm that some of the previously unpublished ones are legitimate.)
This is definitely not Snowden stuff. This isn’t the sort of data he took, and the release mechanism is not one that any of the reporters with access to the material would use. This is someone else, probably an outsider…probably a government.
But the big picture is a far scarier one. Somebody managed to steal 301 MB of data from a TS//SCI system at some point between 2013 and today. Possibly, even probably, it occurred in 2013. But the theft also could have occurred yesterday with a simple utility run to scrub all newer documents. Relying on the file timestamps—which are easy to modify—the most likely date of acquisition was June 11, 2013. That is two weeks after Snowden fled to Hong Kong and six days after the first Guardian publication. That would make sense, since in the immediate response to the leaks as the NSA furiously ran down possibly sources, it may have accidentally or deliberately eliminated this adversary’s access.
Okay, so let’s think about the game theory here. Some group stole all of this data in 2013 and kept it secret for three years. Now they want the world to know it was stolen. Which governments might behave this way? The obvious list is short: China and Russia. Were I betting, I would bet Russia, and that it’s a signal to the Obama Administration: “Before you even think of sanctioning us for the DNC hack, know where we’ve been and what we can do to you.”
They claim to be auctioning off the rest of the data to the highest bidder. I think that’s PR nonsense. More likely, that second file is random nonsense, and this is all we’re going to get. It’s a lot, though. Yesterday was a very bad day for the NSA.
EDITED TO ADD: Snowden’s comments. He thinks it’s an “NSA malware staging server” that was hacked.
EDITED TO ADD (8/18): Dave Aitel also thinks it’s Russia.
EDITED TO ADD (8/19): Two news articles.
Cisco has analyzed the vulnerabilities for their products found in the data. They found several that they patched years ago, and one new one they didn’t know about yet. See also this about the vulnerabilities.
EDITED TO ADD (8/20): More about the vulnerabilities found in the data.
Previously unreleased material from the Snowden archive proves that this data dump is real, and that the Equation Group is the NSA.
EDITED TO ADD (8/26): I wrote an essay about this here.
EDITED TO ADD (9/13): Someone who < a href="http://xorcat.net/2016/08/16/equationgroup-tool-leak-extrabacon-demo/">played with some of the vulnerabilities.
Posted on August 16, 2016 at 10:43 AM •