China Acquired NSA Hacking Tools

China Acquired NSA Hacking Tools

Stolen NSA Hacking Tools Were Used by Chinese Hackers

Symantec released a post that concludes Chinese hackers acquired and used US government developed hacking tools earlier than previously thought. Cyber security experts have tracked China’s hackers for over ten years and regard them as one of the most skilled and menacing hacking groups. They’ve hacked defense targets within the United States including space, satellite, and nuclear propulsion technology makers but never the US government itself.

It was previously thought that the Chinese picked up US National Security Agency (NSA) hacking tools, in a code dump courtesy of hacking group APT23. But according to the analysis, the Chinese hackers were using variations of two NSA hacking tools, known as Eternal Synergy and Double Pulsar before APT23 released the code. It is suspected that the Chinese may have acquired them from a US sponsored cyber attack.

Who is the Buckeye Hacking Group?

In the report, Symantec refers to a Chinese Ministry of State Security contractor operating out of Guangzhou, China as the Buckeye hacking group. They are also known as APT3 and Gothic Panda. The Buckeye group has been active since about 2009.

Heimdel Malware Protection
Heimdel Malware Protection

China’s hacking group used the repurposed NSA hacking tools to carry out cyber attacks against private companies in five countries including Belgium, Luxembourg, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Scientific research and educational organizations were targeted. Buckeye used the NSA’s Bemstour exploit tool in Hong Kong to deliver their own malware Backdoor.Pirpi.

China’s Buckeye group disappeared after the US Justice Department (DOJ) indicted three of its hackers in 2017. Hacked US corporations named as victims in the DOJ indictment were Trimble, Siemens, and Moody’s Analytics.

Who is Equation Hacking Group?

The Equation hacking group is a pseudonym for the NSA hacking group. Like other hacking groups, Equation developed a set of its own hacking tools. The most well-known NSA hacking tool is EternalBlue because of its use in a May 2017 global malware campaign, WannaCry ransomware.

NSA hacking tools were in the massive WannaCry ransomware attack. WannaCry ransomware crippled Britain’s National Health System and ultimately spread to 74 countries. Affected countries included the UK, US, China, Russia, Ukraine, Spain, Italy and Taiwan. The malware attack is a massive infection of Windows computers.

Shadow Brokers also obtained NSA hacking tools. Previously, it was believed they had them before the Chinese. In August 2016, another hacking group called Shadow Brokers released samples of NSA hacking tools and offered them for sale on the dark web. In April 2017, Shadow Brokers made their entire collection of NSA hacking tools available on the dark web including DoublePulsar backdoor and FuzzBunch framework were released. Also, in this group were EternalBlue, EternalSynergy, and EternalRomance exploits.

Shadow Brokers Hacking Group

Shadow Brokers are a hacking group who are best known for stealing highly coveted NSA developed hacking tools. Shadow Brokers released samples of the apps and offered them for sale on the dark web. Finally, all of the tools were released on darknet marketplaces. Variants of the NSA code used by China appear to be different from those released by Shadow Brokers. The most well-known hacking tool is the NSA’s EternalBlue which was used in the infamous WannaCry ransomware cyber attack. The ransomware, Wanna Decrypt0r, also known as ‘WannaCryptor’ or ‘WCRY’ is a variant of malware WannaCry.

China’s Buckeye hacking group used NSA tools to gain access to victim organizations for at least a year before Shadow Brokers made the code available online.

What is Malware?

Malware is any unwanted software found on a computer system, hardware, router, or any part of a computer network. Malware can be used to take over and hold files or an entire computer hostage in exchange for money. This is known as a ransomware attack.

Hackers, including state-sponsored hacking agencies, use malware and other hacking tools to steal data and spy on the activities of private corporations and governments. Malware can be delivered by any number of attack vectors. Phishing campaigns are a frequent method used to gain access to a computer. Once infected, hardware can spread malware to other machines on the network.

Because the NSA was hacked themselves, they were forced to turn over their collection of hacking software and known vulnerabilities to Microsoft for help with patching systems. As a result, some NSA covert operations were shut down.

Michelle writes about cyber security, data privacy focusing on social media privacy as well as how to protect your IoT devices. She She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years and owns METRONY, LLC. Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Michelle published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers