This is a tale of spies, a $US500 million cyber arms heist, accusations of an attempt to manipulate a US presidential election and an increasingly menacing digital war being waged between Russia and the west.
It begins with a clandestine online group known as The Shadow Brokers. There is no evidence that it existed before last Saturday, when a Twitter account in its name tweeted at a handful of leading global news organisations with an unusual announcement: it was conducting a $500 million auction of cyber weapons.
In a show of faith, the group put a selection of its wares – a 4000-file, 250MB trove – on public display. Security analysts have been racing to go through the list but it is already clear that at least some of what has been revealed so far is real.
What is most remarkable, though, is the likely former owner of the Shadow Brokers’ cyber bounty: an outfit known as the Equation Group. Equation is an elite hacking unit of the US National Security Agency. The Shadow Brokers claim that the stolen goods are sophisticated cyber weapons used by the NSA.