Russian hackers stole data belonging to the National Security Agency about America's cyber defense from the home computer of a U.S. government contractor, according to people familiar with the matter.
The material was highly classified and was identified by the hackers since the contractor was using Russian Kaspersky Lab antivirus software, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.
Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said.
The hacking, which is being called "one of the most significant security breaches in recent years," occurred in 2015, but wasn't recognized until Spring 2016. It is the first known case of Russians using the popular antivirus Kaspersky software to hack U.S. national security information. Officials, however, have worried that Russians would exploit the software for their gain in such a matter, and some have accused the company, founded by a computer scientist who was trained at a KGB-sponsored technical school, of being a proxy of the Russian government.
While Kaspersky software has in the past been used by the U.S. military and some other agencies, the NSA has not allowed it to be used on work computers. The NSA, however, has had no prohibitions on it being used on employees' private home computers.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a statement didn’t specifically address the charge of whether the Russian government stole NSA materials using Kaspersky software. Rather, he criticized the U.S. government’s decision, made earlier this month, to ban the software from use by U.S. agencies as "undermining the competitive positions of Russian companies on the world arena."
The NSA did not comment on the matter to the Journal.