A series of security breaches and hacks have left the National Security Agency in shambles, leaving many to question whether the agency has been deeply penetrated or is just incapable of defending itself and the nation’s secrets.
What’s more, the hacks by the Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group that had somehow obtained many of the hacking tools the United States used to spy on other countries, have caused major disruptions in spying operations and have destroyed morale within the agency.
“These leaks have been incredibly damaging to our intelligence and cyber capabilities,” said Leon E. Panetta, the former defense secretary and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. “The fundamental purpose of intelligence is to be able to effectively penetrate our adversaries in order to gather vital intelligence. By its very nature, that only works if secrecy is maintained and our codes are protected.”
In short, the agency regarded as the world’s leader in breaking into adversaries’ computer networks was ultimately unable to even protect its own.
Worse, adds Panetta of the hacks, “Every time it happens, you essentially have to start over” to develop new hacking tools of your own, in order to stay a step ahead of adversaries.
Analyst comment: When the NSA’s systems were breached several months ago, I remember reading several comments from readers of those stories saying things like, ‘Oh, this is no big deal,’ ‘The NSA is just trying to have its budget increased,’ ‘This is a hit job against Obama,’ yada, yada, yada. I’m here to tell you that breaches of this kind, at this level, are extremely serious, not to mention very damaging to our national security. This isn’t about politics; this is about the nation’s premier intelligence agency having tools that are vital to its ability to carry out its mission not only stolen but then used against it. I get that the NSA may have been improperly collecting personal data on Americans, as the scandal in the 2012-2013 timeframe suggested, but I’m here to tell you that if you’re just an ordinary American trying to pay his or her bills and live your life, the NSA doesn’t care about you. You’re no threat. And the agency is nowhere nearly large enough to “monitor” every American. But the next time you hear someone suggest the theft of the NSA’s top cyberweapons is “no big deal,” you should correct them.
The loss of these tools far surpasses the loss of data thanks to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. What’s more, neither the NSA nor the FBI, both of which are investigating the loss, know if they were hacked or if someone from the inside leaked them.