Hacker documents show NSA tools for breaching global money transfer system

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

HONG KONG/SAN FRANCISCO, April 16 (Reuters) - Documents and computer files released by hackers provide a blueprint for how the U.S. National Security Agency likely used weaknesses in commercially available software to gain access to the global system for transferring money between banks, a review of the data showed.

On Friday, a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers released documents and files indicating NSA had accessed the SWIFT money-transfer system through service providers in the Middle East and Latin America. That release was the latest in a series of disclosures by the group in recent months.

Click through some cybersecurity tips:

9 PHOTOS
Cybersecurity tips
See Gallery
Cybersecurity tips

KEEP YOUR PASSWORDS STRONG AND VARIED

If your password is easy for you to remember, then it'll be easy for hackers, too. Try using symbols, numbers and capital letters throughout your passcode. Also, experts suggest you use different passwords for different accounts. 

(Shutterstock)

EMPLOY TWO-STEP AUTHENTICATION

Add another layer of security by having another code sent to your phone number before you can sign in.

(Luis francisco Cordero via Getty Images)

BEWARE OF PUBLIC WIFI

If you're traveling, verify with the coffee shop or hotel that the wi-fi name is valid -- many cybercriminals set up networks with similar names to popular spots. You can also set up a private VPN that encrypts all of your data that passes through the network.

(martiapunts)

COVER YOUR TRACKS

Wipe your hard drive clean before giving away, recycling or throwing out your old laptop or computer.

(Jonathan Kitchen via Getty Images)

DON'T LEAVE YOUR DEVICES UNATTENDED

That's just asking for trouble!

(Aping Vision / STS via Getty Images)

BEWARE OF MYSTERIOUS URLS IN EMAILS

Don't ever click on URL from an unidentified or sketchy looking email. 

(Just One Film via Getty Images)

COVER YOUR WEBCAM 

FBI director James Comey suggests placing a piece of tape over your webcam when you're not using it. If that doesn't convince you, note that Mark Zuckerberg is known to do the same.

KEEP YOUR SOFTWARE UP TO DATE

Hackers target vulnerabilities in software, which are often resolved in software updates, so stop hitting the "ignore" or "remind me later" button!

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Matt Suiche, founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, wrote in a blog post that screen shots indicated some SWIFT affiliates were using Windows servers that were vulnerable at the time, in 2013, to the Microsoft exploits published by the Shadow Brokers. He said he concluded that the NSA took advantage and got in that way.

"As soon as they bypass the firewalls, they target the machines using Microsoft exploits," Suiche told Reuters. Exploits are small programs for taking advantage of security flaws. Hackers use them to insert back doors for continued access, eavesdropping or to insert other tools.

"We now have all of the tools the NSA used to compromise SWIFT (via) Cisco firewalls, Windows," Suiche said.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the documents released by the hackers. Microsoft acknowledged the vulnerabilities and said they had been patched. Cisco Systems Inc has previously acknowledged that its firewalls had been vulnerable.

Cisco and the NSA did not reply to requests for comment. Belgium-based SWIFT on Friday downplayed the risk of attacks employing the code released by hackers and said it had no evidence that the main SWIFT network had ever been accessed without authorization.

It was possible that the local messaging systems of some SWIFT client banks had been breached, SWIFT said in a statement, which did not specifically mention the NSA.

Because tracking sources of terrorist financing and money flows among criminal groups is a high priority, SWIFT transfers would be a natural espionage target for many national intelligence agencies.

BREACH OF FIREWALLS

A PowerPoint presentation that was part of the most recent Shadow Brokers release indicates the NSA used a tool codenamed BARGLEE to breach the SWIFT service providers' security firewalls.

The NSA's official seal appeared on one of the slides in the presentation, although Reuters could not independently determine the authenticity of the slides.

The slide referred to ASA firewalls. Cisco is the only company that makes ASA firewalls, according to a Cisco employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. ASA stands for Adaptive Security Appliance and is a combined firewall, antivirus, intrusion prevention and virtual private network, or VPN.

Documents included in the Shadow Brokers release suggest that the NSA, after penetrating the firewall of the SWIFT service providers, used Microsoft exploits to target the computers interacting with the SWIFT network, Comae Technologies' Suiche said.

The Al Quds Bank for Development and Investment, for example, was running a Windows 2008 server that at the time was vulnerable to newly disclosed Windows exploits, he said.

Microsoft late on Friday said it had determined that prior patches to dozens of software versions had fixed the flaws that apparently were exploited by nine of the NSA programs. Four of the vulnerabilities were blocked by comprehensive updates on March 14. That left only older, unsupported versions of Windows operating systems and Exchange email servers at risk to three of the newly released exploits, the company said.

Earlier Friday, Microsoft had said the company had not been warned by the government or other outsiders about the stolen programs.

Microsoft declined to say how it learned of the exploits without outside help. The company's security systems are capable of detecting attacks against customers, and Microsoft in the past has monitored discussion about exploits on the Internet and also hired former intelligence agency veterans to help it devise programming to protect its software from encroachment.

The NSA targeted nine computer servers at a SWIFT contractor, Dubai-based service bureau EastNets, according to the documents. The U.S. intelligence agency then used lines of code to query the SWIFT servers and Oracle databases handling the SWIFT transactions, according to the documents.

EastNets on Friday denied it had been hacked. (Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Joseph Menn; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by David Greising and Cynthia Osterman)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport Nature Gets Revenge On Safari Hunter Who Killed Elephants And Lions For Sport
12 Facts That Will Make You Smarter Than Your Friends 12 Facts That Will Make You Smarter Than Your Friends
Man Is Horrified To Learn His Biological Father's Identity - But A Look In The Mirror Man Is Horrified To Learn His Biological Father's Identity - But A Look In The Mirror