Kaspersky researchers and former intelligence officers reveal how spies found way to lodge code on disc drives produced by major electronics manufacturers
The US National Security Agency (NSA) has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by top computer manufacturers, allowing the agency to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.
The closely-guarded programme was discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyber-espionage operations.
Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria.
The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.
The firm declined to publicly accuse the US of being behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility.
A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the spy agency valued these espionage programs as highly as Stuxnet.
Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency was aware of the Kaspersky report but would not comment on it publicly.
Kaspersky on Monday published the technical details of its research on Monday, a move that could help infected institutions detect the spying programs, some of which trace back as far as 2001.
The disclosure could hurt the NSA’s surveillance abilities, already damaged by massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden. Mr Snowden’s revelations have upset some US allies and slowed the sales of U.S. technology products abroad.
The exposure of these new spying tools could lead to greater backlash against Western technology, particularly in countries such as China, which is already drafting regulations that would require most bank technology suppliers to proffer copies of their software code for inspection.
— Chris Pietschmann (@crpietschmann) February 17, 2015
Peter Swire, one of five members of President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, said the Kaspersky report showed that it is essential for the country to consider the possible impact on trade and diplomatic relations before deciding to use its knowledge of software flaws for intelligence gathering.
“There can be serious negative effects on other US interests,” Mr Swire said.
According to Kaspersky, the spies made a technological breakthrough by figuring out how to lodge malicious software in the obscure code called firmware that launches every time a computer is turned on.
This article was written by Reuters from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.