A hacking tool developed by the US National Agency is now used to wreak havoc in many American cities and towns.
The computer algorithm code-named EternalBlue was leaked in 2017 by a group called Shadow Brokers. Hackers used the malicious software the same year it was leaked to the public in a worldwide Wannacry ransomware attack that locked up computer systems at hospitals, banks, and phone companies. The hackers solicited ransom from affected parties to set the network free.
The malware was also reportedly used in the 2017 NotPetya assault against Ukraine, which up to now is regarded as the most destructive cyber attacks ever.
EternalBlue has since landed on its own creators’ backyard, Baltimore, NSA’s headquarters. The city has not fully recovered since the local government’s computers were ensnared in the ransomware attack on May 7 disrupting city services. Baltimore’s IT technicians are working round the clock to get the systems fully functional again.
“It is not just Baltimore,” reports the New York Times Magazine. “Security experts say EternalBlue attacks have reached a high, and cybercriminals are zeroing in on vulnerable American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.”
For years, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have argued that encryption systems should be built with backdoors to allow the agencies to access suspects’ computers during interrogation. The NSA through its own mandate developed secret tools for cracking into networks and machines to gather data.
However, some surveillance critics and privacy advocates have been against the idea, arguing that any such backdoors could inevitably be discovered one way or another by hackers and that effort by spy agencies could spin out of control.
It seems that they were right and EternalBlue has come back to bite NSA in the butt. Perhaps, this could be the perfect “I told you so” moment.
Speaking about EternalBlue, Symantec’s director of security response Vikram Thakur told the Times that “it’s incredible that a tool which was used by intelligence services is now publicly available and so widely used.”
Unnamed officials said that global ransomware epidemic is just getting started and more accountability was needed at NSA since failing to secure EternalBlue was like leaving a warehouse of automatic weapons unmanned.
Security agencies are however quick to defend such tools arguing that they are crucial in the fight against crime and terrorism. They add that the huge risk taken at developing such tools is the inevitable cost of being prepared for cyberwar and ensuring national security.