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Saturday, 14 July 2018 20:32

US indictments may queer pitch for ex-NSA hackers Featured

Jake Williams: fears reprisals. Jake Williams: fears reprisals. Supplied

The US Justice Department's indictment of 12 Russians for alleged hacking offences connected to the 2016 US presidential election on Friday has got at least one ex-NSA hacker fearing a reprisal.

Jake Williams, a former member of the NSA's elite Tailored Access Operations Unit, vented his feelings on Twitter a few hours after the indictments were handed down on Friday.

"Let me be clear that: I am NOT a Russia sympathiser I am mad as hell that Russia interfered in our elections (FFS, I was personally outed by a Russian intelligence operation – of course I dislike them)," he wrote. "But charging military/gov hackers is dumb and WILL eventually hurt the US."

He said he was basing this statement on the conclusion that the Shadow Brokers, a group that has leaked NSA exploits on the Web, are Russian. "If you disagree, fine. It doesn't change the fact that I'm mad at the Russians for interfering with the elections (evidence of that is undeniable)."

Added Williams: This *SHOULD* be used as the basis for sanctions. But you can describe the operation and the reason for the sanctions without naming the individuals. This was a pure intelligence operation. There's no mention of ID theft or fraud in the indictment (either WOULD change my opinion)."

The indictments said there was no allegation that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity or knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers. "There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the vote count or changed the outcome of the 2016 election", it added.

As the Russians named in the indictment are never going to show up for trial in the US, the lengthy statement of claims will remain just that: claims.

Williams has good reason to fear exposure: last year, after he wrote an article about the Shadow Brokers, a group that has released exploits from the NSA, the Brokers issued a series of tweets, since deleted, that included details of operations in which Williams was involved.

Given that, for a while Williams restricted his travel abroad; he runs a business known as Rendition Infosec and is in demand as a trainer in various parts of the world.

"For all my fellow US citizens pointing out that Russia committed espionage and we should charge them, don't be naive – we hack too," he wrote on Friday.

"And it largely keeps you safe. When the first US gov hacker is charged and/or arrested I can't wait to watch you change your opinions."

There are numerous ex-NSA hackers who run their own infosec operations. One of the better known people is Dave Aitel, who ran a company known as Immunity, which he sold recently.

But there are few who are so prominent as Williams.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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