US security secrets stolen in Russian NSA hack: reports

Hacking tools allegedly snatched when worker loaded them onto home computer

NSA data

Russian state-sponsored hackers stole highly classified US cyber security information from the NSA in 2015, it has been claimed.

According reports from the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, the breach occurred when a person working in the US spy agency's "elite hacking unit" Tailored Access Operations (TAO) loaded the information onto their home computer.

TAO is the division of the NSA that "develops tools to penetrate computers overseas to gather foreign intelligence", according to the Washington Post's sources. In particular, the information taken by the person involved included hacking tools that were being developed to replace those considered compromised in the Snowden leaks.

It's currently unclear if the individual was an independent contractor, as claimed by the WSJ, or an employee, as claimed by the Washington Post, but they are unified in their claim that Kaspersky Lab antivirus software installed on the individual's computer was used as the conduit to identify and access the material.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Kaspersky Lab has hit back at the allegations, reiterating it "does not have inappropriate ties to any government, including Russia, and the only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight".

The statement also hints at what some independent security researchers had speculated that its software detected the programmes brought home by the individual and classified them as threats, uploading their signatures and other information to its database of threats.

The Washington Post claims the incident, which resulted in the person being removed from their post in November 2015, is still under investigation.

This is the latest in a series of embarrassing breaches for the NSA. While the leaks from Edward Snowden in May 2013 may be the most famous, another contractor Harold Martin was arrested last year in relation to a separate 2013 breach. Then, in 2016, hacking group Shadow Brokers stole a vast cache of hacking tools, once again linked to TAO, from the NSA and leaked them to the public.

These latest reports haven't been confirmed by the NSA, however, with the agency telling Reuters: "[We] never to comment on our affiliates or personnel issues."

Featured Resources

The essential guide to cloud-based backup and disaster recovery

Support business continuity by building a holistic emergency plan

Download now

Trends in modern data protection

A comprehensive view of the data protection landscape

Download now

How do vulnerabilities get into software?

90% of security incidents result from exploits against defects in software

Download now

Delivering the future of work - now

The CIO’s guide to building the unified digital workspace for today’s hybrid and multi-cloud strategies.

Download now



How to protect against a DDoS attack

25 Oct 2019
data breaches

Ex-Equifax CIO to serve four months for insider trading

2 Jul 2019
data breaches

Ex-Equifax CIO to serve four months for insider trading

2 Jul 2019
data breaches

Ex-Equifax CIO to serve four months for insider trading

2 Jul 2019

Most Popular

digital transformation

Boston Dynamics dog-like robots sniff out bombs for Massachusetts police

26 Nov 2019
mergers and acquisitions

Xerox to pursue hostile HP takeover after $30bn gambit fails

28 Nov 2018
Google Android

Samsung Galaxy A90 5G review: Simply the best value 5G phone

22 Nov 2019
data breaches

T-Mobile data breach affects more than a million users

25 Nov 2019