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Security Central: The NSA Is Hacked...Again

This week’s Security Central takes a look at the infiltration of the National Security Agency (NSA) by the mysterious hacking group called the Shadow Brokers. The breach revealed some of America’s most highly classified security info and valued cyberweapons.

Allison Francis

November 17, 2017

3 Min Read

So uh, the NSA was hacked. Again. It’s a bit disconcerting, to say the least, that our country’s hackers keep getting hacked. The folks who are are in charge of guarding our top intelligence operations and secrets – for protecting literally all the security things, for keeping the bad guys at bay – got caught with their cyber pants down.

Here’s the story. Over the weekend, the NSA was compromised by the shady hacker group who calls themselves the Shadow Brokers. The breach leaked America’s tip-top secret, highest-valued security data and cyberweapons and flooded the dark web with the information. We’re talking highly, highly classified stuff here – information that the government was never supposed to even acknowledge.

It seems that our boys in the the hot seats over at the NSA were so busy watching the front door, they forgot to watch the back. What’s worse is that this is not the first time this has happened.

Remember our old pal Edward Snowden? Out of the NSA’s famous breaches, Ed’s was probably the most highest profile of all. In case you need a refresher, back in 2013, the former contractor blew the lid on a bevy of secret, highly classified information from the NSA, knocking the agency’s credibility down to the lowest rung. The information he leaked was earth-shattering – documented proof of programs like PRISM, Tempura, Upstream and XKeyscore, through which the agency collected troves of data – phone records, emails, texts, browsing, chats, images and more – not just on targets overseas but American citizens as well.

Another breach happened 15 months ago when the NSA’s internal hacking group, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), was compromised. The result has been a tidal wave of internet debauchery — cases of ransomware, disappearing files, and network attacks that have had extremely negative effects businesses, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s important to recognize something here. The damage from Shadow Brokers is vastly different from that caused by Snowden. Why? It did not expose illegal surveillance, but it made the NSA’s own hacking tools completely worthless – at least to them. It also severely undermined the organization’s ability to effectively protect itself and guard its precious data and secrets. As The New York Times puts it:

“Current and former agency officials say the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which began in August 2016, have been catastrophic for the NSA, calling into question its ability to protect potent cyberweapons and its very value to national security. The agency regarded as the world’s leader in breaking into adversaries’ computer networks failed to protect its own.”

This raises truly existential questions for contemporary firms, which now find themselves in the crosshairs of the very weapons meant to protect them. Now, it is every firm for itself in this new “Wild West” of global cyberwarfare – and the larger your organization, the more vulnerable you are. Which begs the question – how can businesses survive and flourish in this dangerous new environment?

Dan Schiappa, senior vice president and general manager of Products, Sophos, says that we’ve reached a turning point, and that traditional security methods are no longer enough to prevent cyberattacks. “With Shadow Brokers’ ongoing release of stolen NSA tools that are mouthwatering for hackers, but incredibly dangerous for businesses, security as we know it must change,” states Schiappa.

So how can we preemptively identify new threat vectors before an attack occurs? What defense strategies are actually effective? What can we learn from this attack on the NSA? It’s impossible to know when and how you’ll get hit, especially considering the alarming pace at which cybercriminals are becoming more and more stealthy – constantly innovating and advancing. One thing we do know – protect your front end, but keep a pair of eyes in the back of your head as well.



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About the Author(s)

Allison Francis

Allison Francis is a writer, public relations and marketing communications professional with experience working with clients in industries such as business technology, telecommunications, health care, education, the trade show and meetings industry, travel/tourism, hospitality, consumer packaged goods and food/beverage. She specializes in working with B2B technology companies involved in hyperconverged infrastructure, managed IT services, business process outsourcing, cloud management and customer experience technologies. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing from Drake University. An Iowa native, she resides in Denver, Colorado.

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