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An unidentified hacker tried to sell purported U.S. military documents containing information about combat drones last month, a cybersecurity research firm said, after they were allegedly stolen from an Air Force officer’s computer.
The hacker sought buyers for maintenance documents about the MQ-9 Reaper drone, a remotely controlled aerial vehicle used by the Pentagon and other parts of the government to conduct offensive strikes or reconnaissance and surveillance operations.
Discovery of the attempted sale of the stolen documents comes amid heightened concern about how U.S. military secrets may be insufficiently protected from hackers. Military officials said last month that the Defense Department’s inspector general was investigating a major security breach after Chinese hackers allegedly stole data pertaining to submarine warfare, including plans to build a supersonic antiship missile.
There was no evidence that the hacker who acquired the Reaper drone documents was affiliated with a foreign country, or that he was intentionally seeking to obtain military documents, said Andrei Barysevich, a senior threat researcher at Recorded Future, the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm that spotted the attempted sale. Instead, the hacker scanned large parts of the internet for misconfigured Netgear routers and exploited a two-year-old known vulnerability, involving default login credentials, to steal files from compromised machines.
Recorded Future said it has notified the Defense Security Service and the Department of Homeland Security about the hacker’s activities. A DHS spokesman said the agency was reviewing the information provided by Recorded Future but deferred further comment to the Air Force. The Air Force and DSS didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Posing as a potential buyer, researchers at the cyber firm contacted the seller, and during weeks of back-and-forth discussions were sent screenshots of the purportedly stolen documents. Those documents included the name of an Air Force captain stationed at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from whom the hacker is believed to have obtained the stolen drone files.
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