KASPERSKY LAB DOESN'T HAVE a lot of US government favour, but the company, reports Politico, tipped off the National Security Agency (NSA) about the contractor who was charged in 2016 for nicking classified data.
Under the proviso of anonymity, two people with knowledge of the arrest told Politico that Kaspersky turned in Harold T Martin III to the NSA after the company got odd Twitter messages from the contractor in 2016.
Apparently, Martin used a Twitter account under the name of HAL999999999 to send a quintet of cryptic messages to two researchers at Kaspersky.
According to Politico, which got a glance at the short exchange between HAL99999999 and Kaspersky's security boffins, the messages included a request to talk to "Yevgeny", thought to be Kaspersky CEO Eugene Kaspersky, and included a message noting that the request has "shelf life, three weeks".
While the researchers were then blocked from talking to HAL99999999 after responding to the messages, the timing of the communications came at a time when the hacker group Shadow Brokers began plonking secret NSA tool online and touted an auction to sell more code pilfered from the agency.
Clearly spurred into action Kaspersky's researchers managed to link the account to Martin and how he worked as an NSA contractor. They suspected Martin was connected to the Shadow Brokers and essentially flagged him to the NSA, though Kaspersky hasn't confirmed its role in the case.
Documents filed by US prosecutors noted that the HAL99999999 has a picture that could be matched to Martin.
Essentially, the action of Kaspersky's researchers led to Martin being arrested with FBI and SWAT members raiding his home and finding a cache of classified data in both digital and hard format. Martin reportedly had possession of some 50TB of classified data.
If wasn't clear if Martin had passed on data and classified tools to the Shadow Brokers and he wasn't charged with espionage, but he still faces court charges for 20 counts of legal retention of classified information. So far he's offered to plead guilty to one count, which alone would carry 10 years in the clink.
Martin's fate and what he planned to do with the data remains unclear. But that doesn't bypass the irony that it took a Moscow-based cyber security firm, whose software is banned from US government use due to concerns over the risk of being linked to the Russian government, to flag the risk posed to NSA data.
Kaspersky may have helped the NSA out but we doubt the US government will revoke its Kaspersky software ban, despite all the company's efforts to be completely open with the US.
As for the NSA, it appears to be a bit sloppy given it wasn't able to nab the data thief within its agency by itself. But then again the NSA seems to be pretty poor at keeping some of its classified data and tools under wraps. µ
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