Shadow Brokers leak NSA-linked Microsoft hacking tools

A mysterious group that claims to have stolen digital tools once used by the NSA published a trove of active Microsoft Windows software exploits.

The mysterious group that claims to have stolen digital weapons once used by the National Security Agency published a trove of active Microsoft Windows software exploits on Thursday.

The code dump, accompanied by a farewell message written in broken English by the enigmatic group the Shadow Brokers, confirms claims implicit in an earlier post Sunday. While the prior message showed filenames, directories and screenshots — implying the existence of these capabilities — along with an associated price tag, today’s download provides functional code.

Screenshot of final message from SB

Screenshot of farewell message from Shadow Brokers

Of the 61 files provided in total in the newly released set, only one had ever been catalogued by anti-virus databases, based on a VirusTotal scan conducted earlier Thursday morning. The files contain user mode and kernel mode modules. Notably, the one tool effectively recognized by the virus scanner avoided detection from Malwarebytes, Panda, Comodo and Fortinet products, said Rendition Infosec founder Jake Williams.


In their supposed final message, the ShadowBrokers say they are “making [an] exit” and “going dark”— although an associated bitcoin wallet will remain open for new bids. The group claims it will come out of hiding to provide the remaining stolen hacking tools only upon receiving 10,000 bitcoin, or $8.13 million worth of the anonymous currency.

Cybersecurity experts tell CyberScoop the exploits are outdated because they are designed to work against old versions of Microsoft operating systems.

“This dump contains Windows Implants and not Unix tools, reinforcing the insider theory. And the outdated Windows target of those implants reinforce the opinion that Shadow Brokers only has old dirt,” said Matt Suiche, founder of United Arab Emirates-based cybersecurity startup Comae Technologies. “There is no reason to have all the tools of every platforms etc. on a staged server.”


The exploits can be understood as highly advanced hacking tools that were likely developed and deployed by a sophisticated adversary, like an intelligence service, explained Michael Zeberlein, director of intelligence analysis with Area 1 Security.

“They’re basically enterprise class IT infrastructure and systems management functions applied in an offensive fashion. They would help you get very granular control of computers and servers running in an enterprise environment, an entire organization,” Zeberlein told CyberScoop. “Really, these tools provide incredible capability.”

“There’s no doubt that this is Equation Group’s stuff based on old reporting,” said Zeberlein.  

A meticulous analysis associated with Sunday’s blog post suggests that the leaked information likely came from an insider, rather than a hacker with access to a compromised attack server, based on file configurations, CyberScoop first reported.

“Attackers and defenders around the globe will be reverse engineering these to repurpose [attacks] and create defenses,” Williams said.


“This data, it’s a big deal … because it includes information related to client and server components, which will basically help [intelligence analysts] trace old breaches back to the Equation Group,” a former U.S. intelligence official told CyberScoop on the condition of anonymity.

The Shadow Brokers first emerged on social media in August by similarly dumping operational code for a cohort of old firewall exploits that targeted vulnerabilities in Cisco, Fortinet and Juniper Networks products. Because the source code for these firewall exploits was provided in a public forum, random hackers began using the tools themselves.

“While we cannot surmise the attacker’s [Shadow Brokers] identity or motivation nor where or how this pilfered trove came to be, we can state that several hundred tools from the leak share a strong connection with our previous findings from the Equation Group,” Kaspersky Lab researchers, many of whom originally helped identify Equation Group’s existence in 2015, wrote in a company blog post in August.

The Equation Group is believed to have ties to the NSA.

Chris Bing

Written by Chris Bing

Christopher J. Bing is a cybersecurity reporter for CyberScoop. He has written about security, technology and policy for the American City Business Journals, DC Inno, International Policy Digest and The Daily Caller. Chris became interested in journalism as a result of growing up in Venezuela and watching the country shift from a democracy to a dictatorship between 1991 and 2009. Chris is an alumnus of St. Marys College of Maryland, a small liberal arts school based in Southern Maryland. He's a fan of Premier League football, authentic Laotian food and his dog, Sam.

Latest Podcasts