The release this week on websites of what appears to be top-secret computer code that the NSA has used to break into the networks of foreign governments and other espionage targets has caused “deep concern” inside American intelligence agencies, raising the question of whether America’s own elite operatives have been hacked and their methods revealed, says The New York Times.
Most outside experts who’ve examined the posts, by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, say they contain what appear to be genuine samples of the code used in the production of the NSA’s custom-built malware.
Most of the code was designed to break through network firewalls and get inside the computer systems of countries like Russia, China and Iran. That, in turn, allows the NSA to put “implants” in the system, which can lurk unseen for years and be used to monitor network traffic or facilitate a computer attack.
The fact that the code is dated from 2013 suggests that the hackers’ access was cut off around then.
While still widely considered the most talented group of state-sponsored hackers in the world, the NSA still is recovering from the disclosures of former contractor Edward Snowden; it’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars reconfiguring and locking down its systems.
Snowden himself, in a Twitter message from exile in Moscow, said on Tuesday that “circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility” for the code's publication, which he interpreted as a warning shot to the American government in case it was thinking of imposing sanctions against Russia in the cybertheft of documents from the Democratic National Committee.
“The real problem for us is that the Russians seem to have taken the gloves off in the cyberdomain,” says James Lewis, a computer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “and we don’t know how to respond.”