On Monday, experts reported one of the most stunning breaches of security ever. A former NSA contractor, the paper said, stole more than 50 terabytes of highly sensitive data.
According to one source, that includes more than 75 percent of the hacking tools belonging to the Tailored Access Operations. TAO is an elite hacking unit that develops and deploys some of the world's most sophisticated software exploits.
Attorneys representing Harold T. Martin III have previously portrayed the former NSA contractor as a patriot who took NSA materials home so that he could become better at his job. Meanwhile, investigators who have combed through his home in Glen Burnie, Maryland, remain concerned that he passed the weaponized hacking tools to enemies. The theft came to light during the investigation of a series of NSA-developed exploits that were mysteriously published online by a group calling itself Shadow Brokers.
Investigators have floated several theories. One holds that Martin directly provided the tools to the person or group responsible for the leak. An alternate theory is that the leakers obtained the software by hacking Martin. As reported in October, Martin was charged with felony theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. Prosecutors will likely file charges of "violating the Espionage Act by 'willfully' retaining information that relates to the national defense, including classified data such as NSA hacking tools and operational plans against 'a known enemy' of the United States."
An unnamed US official told the paper that Martin allegedly hoarded more than 75 percent of the TAO's library of hacking tools. It's hard to envision a scenario under which a theft of that much classified material by a single individual would be possible. When Shadow Brokers appeared in October, it published hundreds of TAO-developed exploits, including one that, for years, had exploited what was then a critical unknown vulnerability in a widely used firewall sold by Cisco Systems.
Last month, the person or group said it was shutting down in a post that dumped 61 Windows-formatted binary files. Whether Martin was somehow involved with Shadow Brokers or was a compulsive hoarder working alone, the events underscore serious security lapses inside the NSA.