Lawmakers grill NSA on years-old breach in the wake of massive Russian hack

Greg Nash

A group of House and Senate Democrats led by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) this week grilled the National Security Agency (NSA) on a years-old breach of a company that potentially compromised the federal government in a similar way to the recently uncovered breach of IT group SolarWinds. 

The lawmakers sent a letter to the NSA on Thursday seeking answers on the breach of Juniper Networks as the federal government continues to grapple with the fallout from the discovery of the Russian hacking of SolarWinds, which compromised many federal agencies for the past year. 

“[T]he American people have a right to know why NSA did not act after the Juniper hack to protect the government from the serious threat posed by supply chain hacks,” the lawmakers wrote. “A similar supply chain hack was used in the recent SolarWinds breach, in which several government agencies were compromised with malware snuck into the company’s software updates.” 

The breach of Juniper Networks, revealed in 2015, involved investigators finding unauthorized code in one of the company’s products, with hackers making changes to an algorithm first created by the NSA that was used by Juniper, and customers compromised by the malicious code delivered in software updates. Federal agencies were among the company’s customers, including the Department of Defense. 

The incident mirrored the recent SolarWinds breach. Federal officials believe Russia is behind a hack on SolarWinds software updates that allowed hackers to access the networks of up to 18,000 of the company’s customers for at least a year. Agencies that have confirmed they were impacted include the Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury departments. 

The lawmakers on Thursday noted that Juniper has previously stated its belief that a nation state was also involved in its own security breach, which had been ongoing since 2012 when it was discovered. 

“This means that for approximately three years, a sophisticated adversary, possibly a foreign government, likely controlled a backdoor in Juniper’s products which could be used to decrypt communications to or from the many U.S. business and government agencies that were using Juniper’s products,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The lawmakers grilled the NSA on steps it had taken since 2015 to ensure that supply chain hacks, like the Juniper software breach, could not impact federal agencies, and why the NSA was unable to prevent the SolarWinds incident.

A spokesperson for the NSA declined to comment on the letter, which was co-signed by Democratic Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.) and Anna Eshoo (Calif.).

Reuters reported last year that Wyden previously led a separate letter sent to Juniper Networks asking about the status of the company’s investigation into the 2015 incident. 

“Juniper’s experiences can provide a valuable case study about the dangers of back doors, as well as the apparent ease with which government back doors can be covertly subverted by a sophisticated actor,” Wyden and multiple other bipartisan lawmakers wrote to Juniper in June, according to Reuters.

Tags Anna Eshoo Bill Foster computer breach Cory Booker Cyberattack National Security Agency Pramila Jayapal Ron Wyden Russia SolarWinds Stephen Lynch Suzan DelBene Ted Lieu Tom Malinowski Yvette Clarke

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