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Former NSA employee who worked in the agency's elite hacking group pleads guilty to taking classified documents

  • A former employee of an elite government hacking group pleaded guilty to illegally taking classified documents.
  • 67 year-old Nghia Hoang Pho reportedly took the digital and physical files to help write his resume.
  • The documents are believed to have been stolen from his home computer by Russian hackers.
  • Pho had installed a popular antivirus software by Kaspersky Lab on his computer.
  • Kaspersky Lab is suspected of being involved with Russian intelligence.

A former employee of an elite hacking group operated by the National Security Agency pleaded guilty on Friday to illegally taking classified documents, according to multiple media reports.

Sixty-seven-year-old Nghia Hoang Pho admitted to a willful retention charge, which was mostly kept under wraps due to the sensitive nature of the crime, according to Reuters.

As a software developer working for the NSA’s “Tailored Access Operations Unit,” a group that is widely renowned for its ability to access foreign computer networks and playing a role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Pho reportedly took classified documents and writings from 2010 to 2015 and kept them at his home, according to prosecutors cited in a New York Times report.

Pho reportedly took digital and physical files home, which he allegedly knew contained sensitive information, and is accused of using them to rewrite his resume, according to the reports. But the nature of the threat was not fully realised until it was discovered Pho had installed a popular antivirus software by Kaspersky Lab, a software company based in Russia, which is believed to have been exploited to steal the files from Pho’s computer.

Kaspersky has been in the crosshairs of cybersecurity and Russian hawks, after it was discovered that its software may have been used as a spying tool to pull documents. After an internal investigation in November, Kaspersky admitted that its antivirus software could be compromised, but added that it had was not deliberate and denied it was involved with Russian intelligence.

Pho reportedly faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

Pho is the latest NSA employee to be charged in the last two years for taking classified information, according to Reuters. Harold Martin, an NSA contractor, was indicted in February for stealing up to 50 terabytes of data during a 20 year period, The Times said.

Additionally, Reality Winner, another NSA contractor, was charged after she allegedly leaked classified details on two cyberattacks conducted by the Russian military intelligence unit, the GRU, which targeted voter registration-related software and dozens of local election officials.

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