A man who illegally took home hacking tools from his workplace at the National Security Agency, and then allegedly lost them to Russian intelligence, has been jailed for five years and six months.
Nghia Hoang Pho, 68, developed hacking tools at the NSA's elite Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, which works on penetrating target computer networks for the US intelligence community.
While employed by the NSA between 2010 and 2015, Pho took home what prosecutors described as "massive troves of highly classified national defence information" and stored those troves on his home computer network.
Reports have alleged that while these tools were stored on his home computer, Pho installed Kaspersky Lab anti-virus software, which Russian intelligence then used to steal those tools for themselves.
Although the company has vigorously denied claims its software was used by Russian intelligence to steal the data, the publicity damage has left Kaspersky Lab working to address customer fears in a global transparency initiative – including moving a significant portion of its operations from Russia to Switzerland.
An internal investigation at the cyber security company into the incident prompted the company to suggest that an NSA employee had actually been hacked when he downloaded pirate software and disabled Kaspersky's anti-virus.
Tools among those believed to have been developed by the NSA and stolen by Russian intelligence were leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, and subsequently used in "reckless" cyber attacks by North Korea and Russia damaging the NHS in the UK and Ukraine.
Pho pleaded guilty to compromising what prosecutors described as some of America's "most closely held types of intelligence" in both hard copy and digital formats.
His "intentional, reckless and illegal retention of highly classified information over the course of almost five years placed at risk our intelligence community's capabilities and methods, rendering some of them unusable," said the US assistant Attorney General for National Security, John Demers.
"Today's sentence reaffirms the expectations that the government places on those who have sworn to safeguard our nation's secrets."
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Pho's actions "forced NSA to abandon important initiatives to protect itself and its operational capabilities, at great economic and operational cost" the Department of Justice added.
The special agent in charge of the investigation, Gordon Johnson, said: "We cannot have a functioning Intelligence Community without the protection of sources and methods, and taking classified information and placing it in a vulnerable setting has profound and often disastrous consequences."