Documents from the National Security Agency and the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that the two agencies—and GCHQ in particular—targeted antivirus software developers in an attempt to subvert their tools to assure success in computer network exploitation attacks on intelligence targets. Chief among their targets was Kaspersky Labs, the Russian antivirus software company, according to a report by The Intercept’s Andrew Fishman and First Look Media Director of Security Morgan Marquis-Boire.
Kaspersky has had a high profile in combatting state-sponsored malware and was central in the exposure of a secret NSA-backed hacking group that had been in operation for 14 years. More recently, it was revealed that Kaspersky had come under direct attack recently from an updated version of the Duqu malware—possibly launched by an Israeli-sponsored hacking group. The same malware was found on the networks of locations hosting negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But the latest Snowden documents show that both the NSA and GCHQ waged a somewhat more subversive battle against Kaspersky—both by attempting to reverse-engineer the company’s antivirus software and leveraging its intelligence-collection operations for their own benefit.
Kaspersky was not the only target, but the company was the one most prominently mentioned in the Snowden documents released today by The Intercept. GCHQ officials mentioned Kaspersky by name in a warrant extension request “in respect of activities which involve the modification of commercial software” in June 2008, requesting authorization to reverse engineer Kaspersky’s and other companies’ software products to exploit them for intelligence purposes. (The original warrant had been in place since at least January of 2008.)
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