Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"If it’s the NSA (which looks possible, given a Snowden leak about a program called FEEDTROUGH that installs persistent backdoors in Juniper devices) then it will mean that the U.S. government deliberately sabotaged tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of networks that were protected by products from a U.S. company." (Image: via ZDnet)

Your Business Been Hacked? Thanks NSA!

Peter Van Buren

 by We Meant Well

It appears that the NSA (“or someone”) hacked into the code of a popular firewall and planted a password in there that would allow them access as needed.

That means the NSA (“or someone”) would be able to bypass the security features of a network and do what they wanted inside. This is basically an act of sabotage. Given that American organizations as well as foreign ones use these same firewalls, and that the planted password could be discovered by others outside the NSA, the act made vulnerable a multitude of innocent, untargeted systems.

Juniper Networks makes a popular line of enterprise firewalls whose operating system is called Screen OS. The company raised alarm bells with an advisory announcing that they’d discovered “unauthorized code” in some versions of Screen OS, a strange occurrence that hinted that a security agency had managed to tamper with the product before it shipped. One possible route would be for any such agency to have its own people inside the company, acting under cover.

An investigator for Juniper reported that he and his team have confirmed that the “unauthorized code” is a backdoor whose secret password enables the wielder to telnet or ssh into Juniper’s appliances. The password is <<< %s(un='%s') = %u, "presumably chosen so that it would be mistaken for one of the many other debug format strings in the code." Further investigation located 26,000 Juniper devices that are vulnerable to this attack until patched.

The code appears to have been in multiple versions of the company’s ScreenOS software going back to at least August 2012.

The next mystery to solve is where this unauthorized code comes from. In this case, someone deliberately inserted a backdoor password into Juniper's devices. Juniper says the hack is sophisticated enough that it had to have been made by a state-level actor. This was not done by your movie-version basement hacker.

“The weakness in the VPN itself that enables passive decryption is only of benefit to a national surveillance regime like the British, the U.S., the Chinese, or the Israelis,” said one researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and UC Berkeley. “You need to have wiretaps on the Internet for that to be a valuable change to make in the software.”

That’s a huge deal.

If it’s the NSA (which looks possible, given a Snowden leak about a program called FEEDTROUGH that installs persistent backdoors in Juniper devices) then it will mean that the U.S. government deliberately sabotaged tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of networks that were protected by products from a U.S. company that is the second-largest provider of networking equipment in the world (after Cisco.)

Or was the second-largest provider. Discovery of the backdoor is unlikely to be good for business.


© 2021 Peter Van Buren
Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East at his blog, We Meant Well. His books include: "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People" (2012) and "Hooper's War: A Novel of Moral Injury in WWII Japan" (2017).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

ACLU Demands 'Truly Systemic Overhaul' of US Civilian Harm Policies

"While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it's unclear that this directive will be enough," says director of the legal group's National Security Project.

Jessica Corbett ·


'This Is Not Over': Alaska Supreme Court Rejects Youth Climate Case

"With the state continuing to undermine their health, safety, and futures," said the plaintiffs' lead counsel, "we will evaluate our next steps and will continue to fight for climate justice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Finds 'Staggering' Rise in Voter Suppression After GOP Restrictions in Georgia

"This is why we are fighting this new law in court," said one voting rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley ·


Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo