After learning that one of its most prized hacking tools was stolen by a mysterious group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, National Security Agency officials warned Microsoft of the critical Windows vulnerability the tool exploited, according to a report published Tuesday by The Washington Post. The private disclosure led to a patch that was issued in March.
Those same NSA officials, according to Tuesday's report, failed to communicate the severity of the vulnerability to the outside world. A month after Microsoft released the patch, the Shadow Brokers published the attack code, code-named EternalBlue, that exploited the critical Windows vulnerability. A month after that, attackers used a modified version of EternalBlue to infect computers around the world with malware that blocked access to data. Within hours of the outbreak of the ransomware worm dubbed WCry, infected hospitals turned away patients; banks, telecommunications companies, and government agencies shut down computers.
"NSA identified a risk and communicated it to Microsoft, who put out an immediate patch," Mike McNerney, a former Pentagon cybersecurity official and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project, told The Washington Post. The problem, he said, is that no senior official took the step of shouting to the world: "This one is very serious, and we need to protect ourselves."
According to unverifiable sources, an NSA contractor stored classified data and hacking tools on his home computer, which were made available to Russian hackers through the contractor's use of Kaspersky Lab anti-virus software:
Russian government-backed hackers stole highly classified U.S. cyber secrets in 2015 from the National Security Agency after a contractor put information on his home computer, two newspapers reported on Thursday.
As reported first by The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified sources, the theft included information on penetrating foreign computer networks and protecting against cyber attacks and is likely to be viewed as one of the most significant security breaches to date.
In a later story, The Washington Post said the employee had worked at the NSA's Tailored Access Operations unit for elite hackers before he was fired in 2015.
[...] Citing unidentified sources, both the Journal and the Post also reported that the contractor used antivirus software from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, the company whose products were banned from U.S. government networks last month because of suspicions they help the Kremlin conduct espionage.