American Spies Get Fooled by the Kremlin Again

The National Security Agency has had a rough half-decade. Beginning with Edward’s Snowden unprecedented theft of classified information and subsequent defection to Moscow in the spring of 2013, NSA’s recent history resembles a tale of seemingly unending woe. One security disaster has been followed by another, with no remedies in sight, while the agency’s reputation is in tatters and workforce morale is at low ebb thanks to mismanagement.

Aside from the vast Snowden disaster, no setback in recent years has stung NSA as badly as the August 2016 debacle when a mysterious group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” appeared online, offering to sell purloined agency hacking tools. As I explained at the time:

The crown jewel here is a 300-megabyte file containing “exploits”—that is, specialized sophisticated cyber tools designed to burrow through firewalls to steal data. What the Shadow Brokers has, which it claims it stole from an alleged NSA front organization termed the Equation Group, appears to be legitimate.

These exploits—or at least some of them—appear to come from NSA’s elite office of Tailored Access Operations, which is the agency’s hacking group. Arguably the world’s most proficient cyber-warriors, the shadowy TAO excels at gaining access to the computer systems of foreign adversaries. TAO veterans have confirmed that, from what they’ve seen of what the Shadow Brokers has revealed, they’re bona fide NSA exploits. This represents a security disaster for an agency that really didn’t need another one.

NSA quickly fingered the Shadow Brokers as a front for Russian intelligence; indeed, the hackers displayed scant concern for masking who they really were. This setback has produced bad headlines for the agency for well over a year now, as stolen NSA exploits have appeared online and have been employed to ransack websites worldwide for fun and profit. Such bad press could not be worse-timed for the agency, and the whole exercise appears to be a cunning effort at trolling by the Kremlin, which has had NSA on its back feet ever since Snowden appeared in Moscow nearly five years ago now.

Read the rest at The Observer …