If computer hacking were an Olympic event, the US would take home the gold medal every time, a report from Russian computer security firm Kaspersky Lab suggests. Not that the American hackers will welcome the recognition: Kaspersky says the spy programs it has unearthed are the most advanced it has ever seen, and they include spyware, embedded deep within hard drives made by top manufacturers, that would remain even if all software was reinstalled, Reuters reports. Kaspersky didn't name the country of the hackers it calls the Equation Group, whose exploits go back at least 14 years, but experts tell Forbes they're sure they belong to the National Security Agency, and Reuters reports that Kaspersky believes the campaign is closely linked to the NSA's Stuxnet cyberweapon.
"It seems to me Equation Group are the ones with the coolest toys," a Kaspersky director tells Ars Technica. "Every now and then they share them with the Stuxnet group and the Flame group, but they are originally available only to the Equation Group people." The Kaspersky report found that the malware embedded deep in hard drives targeted governments, telecoms, banks, and other institutions in countries such as Russia, Iran, and Iraq, reports the Wall Street Journal. The report says the Equation Group used a variety of tricks to spread other kinds of malware, and also exploited previously unknown bugs in Windows. The NSA, unsurprisingly, has declined to comment on Kaspersky's findings. (Read more Kaspersky Labs stories.)