FORT MEADE, Md. – In a rare press release, the National Security Agency on Tuesday announced it has upgraded its cyber defenses after a security breach late last year left the intelligence agency vulnerable to attack. “Following an incident that occurred in November of 2015, NSA has reviewed and updated its security protocols,” the agency said in a statement posted on its website.
The incident in question occurred just weeks before Thanksgiving on November 7, 2015, when an apparent computer glitch resulted in a sequence of highly classified nuclear launch codes, known as ‘Gold Codes,’ to become embedded on the front page of the NSA’s official website. According to the NSA, the codes, which are provided to the president for the purpose of authorizing a nuclear attack, were only exposed for a period of seven minutes.
However, according to a high-ranking NORAD official with knowledge of the incident, hackers were still able to access the codes despite their short appearance online. Within minutes of discovering the classified data, the official told The Washington Post, a launch sequence was remotely established at a hardened missile silo located at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Moments later, a rouge LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile left its silo.
Armed with a W87 thermonuclear warhead, the ballistic missile passed over Nevada and California before plunging into the Pacific Ocean nearly two hundred miles off the coast of Southern California, where it detonated underwater. Immediately following the incident, the U.S. Navy claimed the fully armed ICBM, which was seen by hundreds of people across two states, was actually an unarmed submarine-launched Trident missile, fired as part of a planned missile test.
The U.S. intelligence community has yet to identify the hackers responsible for the NSA’s data breach but officials are confident that with the new security protocols in place, a repeat of last November’s mishap is unlikely to happen again, at least in the foreseeable future.