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Threat Intelligence

9/25/2018
05:10 PM
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Ex-NSA Developer Gets 5 1/2-Year Prison Sentence

Nghia Hoang Pho, who illegally took home classified NSA information, also sentenced to three years of supervised release after prison term.

A former National Security Agency software developer with its Tailored Access Operations (TAO) has been sentenced to 66 months in prison plus three years of supervised release for taking home classified information without authorization.

Nghia Hoang Pho, 68, of Ellicott City, Md., had pleaded guilty in December of 2017 for his actions that ultimately led to the theft of classified NSA hacking tools and other information from his personal computer by Russian state-sponsored actors. Pho's machine was breached on Oct. 4, 2014, after he installed what appeared to be a pirated Office 2013 application, which was later detected by the Kaspersky Lab anti-malware software running on the computer. 

Kaspersky Lab in November 2017 conducted an internal investigation on Pho's infected machine after the Moscow-based security company came under scrutiny and faced allegations that its software had assisted Russian nation-state actors in stealing the NSA hacking tools off the NSA employee's home computer. The security company has denied those allegations.

Pho's PC was infected with the Mokes backdoor, aka Smoke Bot and Smoke Loader, an information-stealing backdoor Trojan sold in Russian cybercrime underground forums, Kaspersky Lab found.

The former NSA employee took home classified information in both digital and paper form between 2010 and March 2015, and eventually, some of that information was exposed to Russian state-sponsored hackers.  

"Removing and retaining such highly classified material displays a total disregard of Pho's oath and promise to protect our nation’s national security," US District Attorney Robert K. Hur said in a US Department of Justice statement today announcing Pho's sentencing. "As a result of his actions, Pho compromised some of our country's most closely held types of intelligence, and forced NSA to abandon important initiatives to protect itself and its operational capabilities, at great economic and operational cost."

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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