A big leak of hacking tools is 'causing a bit of mayhem right now'

HackersMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios/IMDBA scene from the 1995 movie ‘Hackers.’

A hefty cache of hacking tools were leaked to the masses this week when the controversial surveillance company Hacking Team was breached and 500 GB of its files were released for download on Twitter.

“The hacking team tools are of a much higher quality and are much more effective than anything hackers have had access to,” Lior Div, CEO of Israeli cybersecurity firm Cybereason, told the Times of Israel on Thursday.

“Now that anybody can download them and use them in cyberattacks, don’t be surprised to see many more well-protected sites and servers being compromised,” he added.

The hackers who infiltrated the company, which sells surveillance technology such as spyware to governments around the world, reportedly “got everything,” according to Vice — including the tools Hacking Team developed to monitor cell phones, laptops, and any other device with network connectivity.

“Hacking Team’s investigation has determined that sufficient code was released to permit anyone to deploy the software against any target of their choice,” the company’s spokesperson Eric Rabe said in a statement on Wednesday. “Terrorists, extortionists and others can deploy this technology at will if they have the technical ability.”

Experts largely agree that both Div’s and Rabe’s statements are exaggerated — the tools Hacking Team sold to its clients were not very sophisticated, and most of them were already widely available to hackers.

Still, “even if the hackers had little use for the tools that were leaked, they could always re-engineer them to serve their own purposes,” Joe Loomis, founder and CEO of Cybersponse security, told Business Insider.

“The leak will probably have a bigger impact on personal privacy than anything else since this software is used primarily to monitor individuals and what they’re doing.”

The hack also exposed the questionable clients Hacking Team told surveillance tools to, including a number ofrepressive, US-blacklisted regimessuch as the Syrian and Sudanese governments. The US Drug Enforcement Agency was also listed as a client.

While they can be used to “snoop and sniff,” the tools are not particularly sophisticated, Dave Aitel, CEO of Immunity, Inc., noted to Business Insider. “The exploits wouldn’t affect systems running basic security mechanisms.”

But they don’t necessarily have to be sophisticated to be effective, Dave Chronister, founder of Parameter Security, countered.

“It’s causing a bit of mayhem right now,” Chronister said. “A lot of the leaked tools were already out there, but there are a few new ones that will definitely add to hackers’ arsenals.”

One of these tools — an Adobe Flash 0day allowing hackers to penetrate Adobe’s media player — was exploited by hackers almost immediately after it was leaked.

“The only silver lining is that cybersecurity experts know what to watch for because they know which tools were leaked,” Chronister added.

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