The ShadowBrokers, a hacking group, pledged to shut down their operation and go dark on Jan. 12. But as a final act of spite the group released 61 files from a cache of hundreds of programs allegedly belonging to an exploitation framework used by the U.S. National Security Agency.
The files reportedly include programs for compromising systems and circumventing defensive software, including antivirus programs. The group released the files because many—44, according to security experts—could be detected by at least one antivirus program, the group said in a statement posted online.
“So long, farewell peoples,” the group stated. “TheShadowBrokers is going dark, making exit. Continuing is being much risk … not many bitcoins.”
The group originally appeared in August 2016, claiming to have stolen files from a NSA server—files that matched those described in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The files also matched the telltale signatures from an exploitation kit discovered by Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky. The security firm dubbed the group behind the software as “The Equation Group.”
In August the ShadowBrokers declared that they would release the files to anyone who paid them 10,000 bitcoins in an auction.
Yet, the chaotic manner with which the group declared the auction—along with the astronomical price tag—suggested to many researchers that the group was not serious. Other researchers believe that the group is likely linked to Russian intelligence.
“I think the Shadowbrokers are a front for Russian intelligence and the auction was a smokescreen,” Jake Williams, principal consultant for Rendition Infosec, a cyber-security services firm, told eWEEK. “It is an insane auction method. It was likely never about raising revenue.”
Williams argues that the release of the information is a parting shot at the Obama administration and intelligence organizations. Furthermore, the release of the code will likely result in an arms race as other nation-states try to reverse engineer the files and incorporate the exploits as well as the vulnerabilities targeted by the exploits into their own attacks and defenses.
“This is definitely a game changer for the industry,” he said. “This is the first time that we have ever seen a nation-state’s toolkit. It likely represents years of research, and in a matter of weeks other nation-states and cyber-criminal groups will have reverse-engineered it. I don’t think there is a nation-state attack team on the planet that is not reverse engineering this code and figuring out how they can best use the technology.”
Kaspersky Lab verified that the files released on Dec. 12 matched those from the Equation Group.
“Most of the samples in the archive are EquationDrug plugins, GrayFish modules and EquationVector modules,” the company said in a statement. “These three are known malware platforms used by the Equation group, which we described in February 2015. From the list of 61 files provided, our products already detect 44 of them. We are updating our products to detect all further samples."
However, the ShadowBrokers dropped another parting shot in fractured English. They may be back.
“TheShadowBrokers offer is still being good, no expiration,” the group said in a statement. “If TheShadowBrokers receiving 10,000 btc in bitcoin address then coming out of hiding and dumping password for Linux + Windows.”