The National Security Agency, the US's largest and most secretive intelligence agency, has been deeply infiltrated by anonymous hackers, as detailed in a New York Times exposé published Nov. 12.
The NSA, which compiles massive troves of data on American citizens and organizes cyber-offensives against the U.S.'s enemies, was deeply compromised by a group known as the Shadow Brokers, which has made headlines in the past year in connection to the breach, whose source remains unclear.
The group now posts cryptic, mocking messages pointed toward the NSA as it sells the cyber-weapons, created at huge cost to US taxpayers, to any and all buyers, including US adversaries like North Korea and Russia.
Kim Jong Un (left) and Vladimir Putin are all too happy to buy up that juicy NSA info. (Kim Jong Un photo from Driver Photography, Putin from Moscow Kremlin)
"It's a disaster on multiple levels," Jake Williams, a cybersecurity expert who formerly worked on the NSA's hacking group, told The Times. "It's embarrassing that the people responsible for this have not been brought to justice."
"These leaks have been incredibly damaging to our intelligence and cyber-capabilities," Leon Panetta, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told The Times. "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."
Furthermore, a wave of cyber-crime has been linked to the release of the NSA's leaked cyber-weapons.
Another NSA source who spoke with The Times described the attack as being at least, in part, the NSA's fault. The NSA has long prioritized cyber-offense over securing its own systems, the source said. As a result, the US now essentially has to start over on cyber-initiatives, Panetta said.