More than a year after one of the worst security debacles ever to befall American intelligence, the National Security Agency has been shaken to the core by a cyber attack that deeply infiltrated the country’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency, reports the New York Times. The hack came to light in August 2016 when the Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group that had somehow obtained many of the hacking tools the United States used to spy on other countries, began making public disclosures of highly classified information. Current and former agency officials say the Shadow Brokers disclosures 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.
Fifteen months into a wide-ranging investigation by the agency’s counterintelligence arm, known as Q Group, and the FBI, officials still do not know whether the NSA is the victim of a brilliantly executed hack, with Russia as the most likely perpetrator, an insider’s leak, or both. Three employees have been arrested since 2015 for taking classified files, but there is fear that one or more leakers may still be in place. And there is broad agreement that the damage from the Shadow Brokers already far exceeds the harm to American intelligence done by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who fled with four laptops of classified material in 2013. The Shadow Brokers have gone a giant step beyond Snowden by releasing the computer coding for cyberweapons created at huge expense to American taxpayers. Those weapons have now been picked up by hackers from North Korea to Russia and shot back at the United States and its allies.