Russian hackers were able to steal classified documents from the National Security Agency with the help of Kaspersky Lab antivirus software, according to multiple reports.
The attack, which was carried out in 2015 but discovered only last year, has been considered by experts as "one of the most significant security breaches in recent years."
Russian Hackers Stole NSA Secrets: Here's How It Happened
The Wall Street Journal reported that, according to unidentified sources, hackers working for the Russian government were able to steal classified documents from the NSA after a contractor placed the files on his home computer.
The contractor, who was said to have had no intention in leaking the documents, violated security protocols when he took home the files to use them as reference as he worked on his resume.
The documents stored details on how the United States government gains access to foreign computer networks to acquire intelligence, and how it defends against cyberattacks.
Investigators believe that the hackers were able to acquire the files by exploiting the antivirus software of Kaspersky Lab that was installed in the contractor's computer. Kaspersky Lab antivirus software has had a reputation of aggressively scanning files to protect computers from threats, and investigators think that after it scanned the NSA documents, Russian hackers were alerted to their presence in the contractor's home computer. They then focused on stealing the files from the machine.
US Government vs Kaspersky Lab
The reported cybersecurity incident provides an explanation on the concerns of U.S. government officials over software from Kaspersky Lab, which is believed to be either cooperating with the Russian government or have been infiltrated by its hackers.
Earlier this year, Kaspersky Lab offered to share its source code to prove that it was not working with the Russian government. However, the notion was not enough, as last month, the federal government ordered the removal of its software from all government computers.
The report, however, did not say that Kaspersky Lab worked with the Russian hackers in the acquisition of the NSA secrets. Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of Kaspersky Lab, issued a statement denying the company's involvement in the security breach. The hackers may have exploited the Kaspersky Lab antivirus software without the company knowing about it.
It should be noted, however, that this is not the first time that NSA secrets were revealed due to insider access to highly classified files. Edward Snowden became a household name for divulging details about the NSA's mass surveillance program, followed by Harold Martin who sneaked out 50 TB of confidential files containing information on the activities of an elite hacking unit of the NSA.