First, some explanation is needed of what’s been compromised. The crown jewel here is a 300-megabyte file containing “exploits”—that is, specialized sophisticated cyber tools designed to burrow through firewalls to steal data. What The Shadow Brokers has, which it claims it stole from an alleged NSA front organization termed the Equation Group, appears to be legitimate.
These exploits—or at least some of them—appear to come from NSA’s elite office of Tailored Access Operations, which is the agency’s hacking group. Arguably the world’s most proficient cyber-warriors, the shadowy TAO excels at gaining access to the computer systems of foreign adversaries. TAO veterans have confirmed that, from what they’ve seen of what The Shadow Brokers has revealed, they’re bona fide NSA exploits.
This represents a security disaster for an agency that really didn’t need another one. How this happened, given the enormous security that’s placed on all NSA Top Secret computer systems, raises troubling questions about what’s going on, since the agency instituted much more strenuous online security after Snowden’s defection, which revealed how slipshod NSA counterintelligence really was.