Researchers from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab have uncovered more evidence tying the US National Security Agency to a nearly omnipotent group of hackers who operated undetected for at least 14 years.
The Kaspersky researchers once again stopped short of saying the hacking collective they dubbed Equation Group was the handiwork of the NSA, saying only that the operation had to have been sponsored by a nation-state with nearly unlimited resources to dedicate to the project. Still, they heaped new findings on top of a mountain of existing evidence that already strongly implicated the spy agency. The strongest new tie to the NSA was the string “BACKSNARF_AB25” discovered only a few days ago embedded in a newly found sample of the Equation Group espionage platform dubbed “EquationDrug.” “BACKSNARF,” according to page 19 of this undated NSA presentation, was the name of a project tied to the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations.
“BACKSNARF” joins a host of other programming “artifacts” that tied Equation Group malware to the NSA. They include “Grok,” “STRAITACID,” and “STRAITSHOOTER.” Just as jewel thieves take pains to prevent their fingerprints from being found at their crime scenes, malware developers endeavor to scrub usernames, computer IDs, and other text clues from the code they produce. While the presence of the “BACKSNARF” artifact isn’t conclusive proof it was part of the NSA project by that name, the chances that there were two unrelated projects with nation-state funding seems infinitesimally small.
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