Home Security NSA told Microsoft about stolen exploits: officials

NSA told Microsoft about stolen exploits: officials

Current and former NSA officials say the agency informed Microsoft about the theft of the exploit named EternalBlue after learning of it, making it possible for the Redmond software giant to issue a patch for it in March. The exploit was used in the WannaCry ransomware attacks over last weekend.

The officials also told The Washington Post that the trove of stolen NSA exploits, which the Shadow Broker group put on sale in August last year, came from Harold Martin, an NSA contractor.

He was arrested last year after the FBI found he had stolen classified data from many government agencies, including practically all the NSA's hacking tools.

Martin's arrest caused such a ruckus that NSA director Michael Rogers offered to quit.

The officials said the agency itself was worried over the potency of EternalBlue, often wondering whether Microsoft should be told about it.

A number of people, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith have blamed the NSA for the WannaCry ransomware outbreak.

Critics of the NSA pointed out that if the exploit had been dumped before 2014, when the US government updated its Windows systems, the damage would have been much greater.

In its early days, EternalBlue was unstable and would often cause Windows systems to crash and show blue screens, a trademark of Windows systems known as the Blue Screen of Death or BSOD.

Because of this, the NSA staff using the exploit had to follow strict usage rules. After it was made more stable, the rules were relaxed somewhat.

One official who spoke to the Post was quoted as saying: "If one of our targets discovered we were using this particular exploit and turned it against the United States, the entire Department of Defence would be vulnerable.

“You just have to have a foothold inside the network and you can compromise everything.”

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.