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Russian hackers stole NSA secrets

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Poor security measures the cause of one of the most significant data breaches

WASHINGTON: Russian government-backed hackers stole highly classified US cyber secrets in 2015 from the US National Security Agency (NSA) after a contractor put information on his home computer, two newspapers reported.

Citing unidentified sources, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the theft included information on penetrating foreign computer networks and protecting against cyber attacks.

It is likely to be one of the most significant security breaches to date.

In a later story, The Washington Post said the employee had worked at an NSA unit for elite hackers before being fired in 2015.

The NSA declined to comment. Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports.

If confirmed, the hack would mark the latest in a series of breaches of classified data from the secretive intelligence agency, including the 2013 leaks of data on classified US surveillance programmes by contractor Edward Snowden.

Another contractor, Harold Martin, is awaiting trial on charges that he took classified NSA material home.

The Washington Post reported that he was not involved in the newly disclosed case.

Republican US Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, responded to the Journal report saying that, if true, the details were alarming.

Mr Sasse said: "Russia is a clear adversary in cyberspace and we can't afford these self-inflicted injuries."

Citing unidentified sources, both newspapers also reported that the contractor used anti-virus software from the Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, whose products were banned from US government networks last month because of suspicions that it helps the Kremlin conduct espionage.

Kaspersky Lab has strongly denied those allegations.

Meanwhile, White House officials believe Chief of Staff John Kelly's personal mobile phone was compromised, Politico reported.

The suspected breach could have happened as long ago as December, it said, citing three US government officials.

Politico reported that the suspected breach was discovered after Mr Kelly turned his phone over to White House tech support this summer complaining that it was not working or properly updating software. - REUTERS

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