Russian researchers expose 'NSA's secret weapon': Outrage at program that enables America to spy on EVERY home computer in the world is uncovered
• The NSA has figured out how to hide spying and sabotage software deep within hard drives, according to cyber researchers and former operatives
• The group said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs
• The most infections were seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria
• The infections started in 2001, but increased drastically in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected
• The tools are designed to run on computers even when they are not connected to the Internet, and even the makers of some of the hard drives are unaware that these programs have been embedded
• 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
By Reuters Reporter and Chris Spargo For Dailymail.com
The firm declined to publicly name the country 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. The NSA is the U.S. agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence.
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.
Kaspersky published the technical details of its research, 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. Snowden's revelations have upset some U.S. 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.
Raiu said the authors of the spying programs must have had access to the proprietary source code that directs the actions of the hard drives. That code can serve as a roadmap to vulnerabilities, allowing those who study it to launch attacks much more easily.
'There is zero chance that someone could rewrite the [hard drive] operating system using public information,' Raiu said.
Concerns about access to source code flared after a series of high-profile cyberattacks on Google Inc and other U.S. companies in 2009 that were blamed on China. Investigators have said they found evidence that the hackers gained access to source code from several big U.S. tech and defense companies.
It is not clear how the NSA may have obtained the hard drives' source code.
Kaspersky uncovers online spy tools with apparent links to NSA
According to former intelligence operatives, the NSA has multiple ways of obtaining source code from tech companies,including asking directly and posing as a software developer
According to former intelligence operatives, the NSA has multiple ways of obtaining source code from tech companies, including asking directly and posing as a software developer. If a company wants to sell products to the Pentagon or another sensitive U.S. agency, the government can request a security audit to make sure the source code is safe.
'They don't admit it, but they do say, "We're going to do an evaluation, we need the source code,"' said Vincent Liu, a partner at security consulting firm Bishop Fox and former NSA analyst. 'It's usually the NSA doing the evaluation, and it's a pretty small leap to say they're going to keep that source code.'
Kaspersky called the authors of the spying program 'the Equation group,' named after their embrace of complex encryption formulas.
The group used a variety of means to spread other spying programs, such as by compromising jihadist websites, infecting USB sticks and CDs, and developing a self-spreading computer worm called Fanny, Kaspersky said.
Fanny was like Stuxnet in that it exploited two of the same undisclosed software flaws, known as 'zero days,' which strongly suggested collaboration by the authors, Raiu said. He added that it was 'quite possible' that the Equation group used Fanny to scout out targets for Stuxnet in Iran and spread the virus.
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