On Thursday, two newspaper reported that the Russian government-backed hackers stole highly classified U.S. cyber secrets in 2015 from the National Security Agency.
As reported first by The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified sources, the theft included information on penetrating foreign computer networks and protecting against cyber attacks and is likely to be viewed as one of the most significant security breaches to date.
In a later story, The Washington Post said the employee had worked at the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit for elite hackers before he was fired in 2015.
The NSA declined to comment, citing agency policy “never to comment on our affiliates or personnel issues.” Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports.
If confirmed, the hack would mark the latest in a series of breaches of classified data from the secretive intelligence agency, including the 2013 leaks of data on classified U.S. surveillance programs by contractor Edward Snowden.
Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse said: “The NSA needs to get its head out of the sand and solve its contractor problem. Russia is a clear adversary in cyberspace and we can’t afford these self-inflicted injuries.”
Citing unidentified sources, both the Journal and the Post also reported that the contractor used antivirus software from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, the company whose products were banned from U.S. government networks last month because of suspicions they help the Kremlin conduct espionage.
Kaspersky said in a statement on Thursday that it found itself caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight.
“Kaspersky Lab has not been provided with any evidence substantiating the company’s involvement in the alleged incident reported by the Wall Street Journal,” it said. “It is unfortunate that news coverage of unproven claims continues to perpetuate accusations about the company.”
james Lewis, a cyber expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said: “The baffling parts are that he was able to get stuff out of the building and that he was using Kaspersky, despite where he worked.”