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NSA staffer pleads guilty to taking home top secret files

Nghia Hoang Pho's case matches reports of an NSA employee who had top secret files lifted off his computer by Kaspersky Lab antivirus software.

Photo of a key on a circuitboard. An NSA staffer pleaded guilty to retaining national defense information on Friday. The case matches reports of an NSA worker who had government hacking tools copied from his home computer by Kaspersky Lab software.

An NSA staffer pleaded guilty to retaining national defense information on Friday. The case's details match reports of an NSA worker who had government hacking tools copied from his home computer by Kaspersky Lab software.

James Martin/CNET

Nghia Hoang Pho allegedly took home classified material from his job at the NSA. Now he's pleading guilty to a federal crime.

Pho entered a guilty plea Friday for unlawfully retaining national defense information, the US Department of Justice announced. The crime could land him in prison for up to ten years.

In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that a staffer took home work from the National Security Agency's Tailored Access Group, the agency's team that focuses on tools that can directly hack surveillance targets. The staffer had antivirus software from Kaspersky Lab on his home computer network and the software scooped up the top secret information as part of its virus scanning process, the Journal reported. 

The US Department of Justice didn't say whether Pho was the staffer described in the Journal's report, and didn't mention the transfer of the top secret files to the Russian government in its press release Friday. However, The New York Times cited a confidential source who said Pho is the NSA staffer in question.

Kaspersky has acknowledged that its software lifted hacking tools from a home computer in 2014, but said it was not part of an intentional effort to steal information from the NSA. The company's products have been banned from government computers and pulled from the shelves by electronics retailer Best Buy.

Kaspersky declined to comment. The NSA didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department didn't respond to a query asking whether Pho is the staffer described in the Journal report. Pho is scheduled to be sentenced in April 2018.

CNET's Alfred Ng contributed to this report.

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