US security agency 'linked to Baltimore hack'

A tool developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that exploits a flaw in Windows is behind the ongoing ransomware attack on the city of Baltimore, according to reports.

It's called EternalBlue and according to The New York Times, it's been used to shut down Baltimore's government, locking employees out of email accounts and residents out of essential online services since 7 May.

Confusingly, EternalBlue exploits a vulnerability also called EternalBlue, which is a flaw in certain versions of Microsoft's Windows XP and Vista systems, allowing hackers to execute remote commands on their target. The EternalBlue tool was developed by the NSA in the early part of this decade and was in use for more than five years, according to the Washington Post, until it was stolen from the agency in April 2017 by the hacking group The ShadowBrokers, which promptly leaked it online. .

The EternalBlue flaw has since been used to cause cyber destruction around the world, including high-profile attacks such as WannaCry in May 2017, the NSA being forced to come clean to Microsoft, and the NotPetya attacks in June of the same year.

Now EternalBlue is reportedly behind the Baltimore ransomware attacks that have shut the city down for almost a month and the local government want answers from the NSA. The agency has never confirmed how it came to lose control of its hacking tool, nor officially commented on the affair.

Some have criticised Baltimore's, however, saying that if the ransomware is ExternalBlue-based the city has had plenty of time to update its systems and close off the vulnerability.

"EternalBlue was released over two years ago. If an organisation has substantial numbers of Windows machines that have gone 2 years without patches, then that's squarely the fault of the organization, not EternalBlue," tweeted ethical hacker Rob Graham.

Baltimore's government hasn't been able to send and receive emails since the attack and some of its employees have tried to sign up for Gmail accounts to continue with work. But these accounts were stopped, instantly, by Google's systems.

In a statement to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said its security systems had detected the creation of several accounts in a short period of time and had automatically shut them down.

"We have restored access to the Gmail accounts for the Baltimore city officials," the spokesperson said. "Our automated security systems disabled the accounts due to the bulk creation of multiple consumer Gmail accounts from the same network."

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.