Personal Security Takes A Hit With Public Release Of NSA’s Hacking Toolkit
Former members of Team Espionage recently expressed their concern that the Shadow Brokers’ dump of NSA Windows exploits had done serious damage to the security of the nation. The unwanted exposure of NSA power tools supposedly harmed intelligence gathering efforts, even though the tools targeted outdated operating systems and network software.
However, there are still plenty of computers and networks online using outmoded software. This makes the released exploits a threat (especially those targeting XP users, as that version will never be patched). But not much of a threat to national security, despite the comments of anonymous former Intelligence Community members. It makes them a threat to personal security, as Chris Bing at CyberScoop points out:
One of these hacking tools, a backdoor implant codenamed DOUBLEPULSAR — which is used to run malicious code on an already compromised box — has already been installed on 30,000 to 50,000 hosts, according to Phobos Group founder Dan Tentler. Other researchers have also engineered different detection scripts to quickly scan the internet for infected computers.
John Matherly, the CEO of internet scanning-tool maker Shodan.io, said that upwards of 100,000 computers could be affected.
Rather surprisingly, data gathered by security researchers shows a majority of the infected computers are in the United States. This shows Microsoft’s steady updating push still faces a sizable resistance right here at home. What it also shows is how fast exploits can be repurposed and redeployed once they’re made public. The scans for DOUBLEPULSAR have turned up thousands of hits worldwide.
DOUBLEPULSAR is simply a backdoor, but an extremely handy one. Once installed, it makes targeted computers extremely receptive to further malware payloads.
“The presence of DOUBLEPULSAR doesn’t mean they’re infected by the NSA, it means there is a loading dock ready and waiting for whatever malware anyone wants to give it,” Tentler said. “The chances are none that all theses hosts [were hacked by] the NSA.
So, there’s that small bit of comfort. It’s not the NSA nosing around the innards of your Windows box, but a bunch of script kiddies playing with new toys… adding them to the normal rolls of malware purveyors seeking to zombify your device and/or make off with whatever information is needed to open fraudulent credit card accounts or whatever.
The NSA certainly could have informed Microsoft of these exploits before it ended support for certain platforms, thus ensuring late- (or never-) adopters were slightly more protected from malware merchants and state agencies. But that’s the Vulnerabilities Equity Process for you: no forewarning until a third party threatens to turn your computing weapons over to the general public.
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