After the Hack: How to Secure Your Microsoft Windows Computer Now

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Over the past few months, a secretive hacking group calling itself the Shadow Brokers has engaged the National Security Agency in a game of cat-and-mouse by hacking NSA systems and releasing the organization’s sensitive data. On Friday, the Shadow Brokers put out their most damaging leak so far: a collection of software and hacking tools that the NSA uses to break into Microsoft computer systems.

The leak also comes paired with evidence that the NSA was successfully tapped into EastNets, a company in Dubai that facilitates a system called SWIFT, which is used to move money between financial institutions. If the evidence is genuine, it means the NSA penetrated the fundamental banking structure of the Middle East, where it could keep eyes planted on how the region’s money flows around the world. (EastNet denies that it was hacked.)

Microsoft responded to the leak as the explosive security threat that it was, immediately patching the vulnerabilities that the hacking tools relied on in order to work. There are an awful lot of Microsoft-based computing systems on the planet, managing everything from an individual’s work and personal life to the large-scale business functions of multinational corporations. When the Shadow Brokers released these hacking tools, the leak presented itself as a key that could open most doors on the internet. It was a free toolkit for cybercrime available to anyone who wanted it, but it was quickly made obsolete.

If you’ve recently updated your Windows computer with the latest patches from Microsoft, then you can count yourself safe from any potential fallout here. On a personal level at least, your digital life is back to the same level of security as it was before the leak.

There are two takeaways of note from this news. First is that the NSA withheld from Microsoft that it had discovered exploitable flaws in its software, then used those holes to develop spying tools. But as the NSA is actively engaged in domestic spying, this should come as little surprise. The second takeaway is that your privacy and security online ought to be treated as paramount. Check out our guide to privacy-protection apps that can help you more accurately reevaluate your safety online.