Shadow Brokers leak trove of NSA hacking tools

Shutterstock image (by fotogestoeber): virus infection spreading out in a network. 

The Shadow Brokers are back with another batch of hacking tools allegedly from the National Security Agency that includes Microsoft zero-day exploits and backdoors into SWIFT banking system service bureaus.

The April 14 "Lost in Translation" leak implies that the NSA's elite Equation Group hacking unit had extensive zero-day exploits and other tools to infiltrate Windows systems and that the agency was inside banking systems, particularly in the Middle East.

In blog posts and on Twitter, the security community seemed blown away at the reach and power of the tools released by the Shadow Brokers.

"This may well be the most damaging dump against the NSA to date, and it is without question the most damaging post-Snowden release," computer security researcher Nicholas Weaver wrote on the Lawfare blog.

The tools appear legitimate, he said, and at least one of the zero-day exploits in the release still works against Windows Server 2013.

Since the release, Twitter has been ablaze with hackers, analysts and security experts reacting in shock to the number and impact of the tools released, one of which has been referred to as "God Mode" on certain Windows systems.

"This isn't a data dump, this is a damn Microsoft apocalypse," tweeted security expert @hackerfantastic.

"We are reviewing the report and will take the necessary actions to protect our customers," a Microsoft spokesperson told FCW by email.

That may be true as far as Microsoft products still under support, noted hacker Matt Suiche noted in a blog post. But some of the exploits target Windows XP, which has been out of support since 2014, and Windows Vista, which went out of support on April 11.

"This means that security vulnerabilities found on those systems will never be corrected," Suiche wrote.

A spokesperson for the SWIFT banking system told FCW in a statement that SWIFT was aware of reports that two third-party service bureaus might have been accessed, but SWIFT itself was not compromised.

EastNets, one of the two services bureaus exposed in the leak and allegedly infiltrated by the NSA, released a statement denying it had been hacked.

"The EastNets Service Bureau runs on a separate secure network that cannot be accessed over the public networks," stated the release. "The photos shown on twitter, claiming compromised information, is about pages that are outdated and obsolete, generated on a low-level internal server that is retired since 2013."

Previous releases by the Shadow Brokers have contained tools and exploits that analysts have stated were years old and for which many companies had issued patches and updates. However, with many people still running older versions of Windows or using outdated hardware, vulnerable targets remain.

At the same time, experts have also stated that a number of the tools leaked by the Shadow Brokers were "irreplaceable" and their exposure significantly harmed the NSA's hacking capabilities. 

Because some of the files in the leak appear to be classified, intelligence community personnel are legally barred from accessing them to analyze and verify. The NSA did not respond to a request for comment on the latest leak.

The leak adds to the woes of the intelligence community, which has been contending with an ongoing release of alleged CIA hacking tools by WikiLeaks.

The Shadow Brokers came on the scene in the summer of 2016 when they announced they had a trove of stolen NSA tools that they then put up for auction. There have been various theories as to who they are and whether they are acting on behalf of a nation state, but so far their identity remains a mystery.

Since their emergence, they appear to have had little to no success selling their pilfered tools and instead have begun to release the actual tools they had claimed to be trying to auction off.

"Is being too bad nobody deciding to be paying theshadowbrokers for just to shutup and going away," the group stated in a blog post announcing the new release, which is written in their characteristic broken English.

"TheShadowBrokers rather being getting drunk with McAfee on desert island with hot babes. Maybe if all suviving WWIII theshadowbrokers be seeing you next week. Who knows what we having next time?"

The fact that Shadow Brokers are now giving away their tools puzzles experts.

"These are tremendously valuable tools to just burn that way, so it does make one wonder (and worry): what exactly is the intended payoff here?" Weaver wrote.


About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.

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