Feeds

NSA installed '50,000 malware sleeper cells' in world computer networks

Government tools penetrated many a Brazilian, apparently

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

America's NSA had established an army of "sleeper cells" – malware-infected, remote-controllable computers – on 50,000 networks by the middle of 2012. That's according to the latest leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reports that the elite NSA TAO (Tailored Access Operations) hacking squad had used malware to establish a zombie army with tentacles all across the world.

The malware serves as a sleeper agent on compromised PCs, waiting months or longer before it activates and begins harvesting data. This stolen information is covertly fed into the NSA's voracious data processing apparatus. The malware (or "implants" in the lexicon of the NSA) is slung onto compromised machines using Computer Network Exploitation, or hacking, tactics.

The methodology of the attacks carried out by the NSA is probably similar to the Belgacom hack blamed on GCHQ, which used fake LinkedIn and Slashdot pages to serve malicious code to targeted system engineers at the Belgian telco. The malware variant featuring in the latest NSA leaks is unknown, although we do know it established backdoor access to systems in Brazil, one of the countries that has been most vocal in complaining about US cyber-espionage antics, and Mexico. Similar malware-based tactics have reportedly been a feature of the NSA's playbook for 15 years since 1998.

Previous leaks from Edward Snowden have revealed the detailed methodology for the NSA's deployment of malware, so the latest leaks only really put one operation under the microscope rather than helping to uncover a previously unknown tactic. The latest leak illustrates that state-sponsored cyber espionage is far from the sole preserve of the Chinese, who are routinely blamed for so-called Advanced Persistent Threat-style attacks featuring custom malware and phishing. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.