When the CIA and NSA hacked into a computer network used by the private sector, the cybersecurity industry responded by building a tool called the Black Box.
The Black Box, in short, is a portable computer with a camera, microphone, flash and other devices that can be used to capture video and record audio.
The CIA, NSA and other agencies used the Black Bases for about a decade before the devices were taken off the market.
Today, they are largely obsolete, with only a handful of military agencies and commercial vendors still using the Black Keys, according to a survey by cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes.
Many cybersecurity companies have begun selling them for $1,000 apiece or more.
But the Black Cables are still used in law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and the government is continuing to buy them to augment existing tools like the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) and other tools it uses for surveillance.
They are a valuable asset in a world in which government spying, hacking and surveillance has grown exponentially.
And because of the Black Codes, the security industry is beginning to reevaluate how much it relies on these devices.
The tools have been around for decades, and they have served the government well, but there are some significant risks, experts say.
They have the potential to break and destroy devices, as well as cause the loss of valuable intelligence or personal information.
For example, if a thief breaks into your laptop and takes pictures or video, your Black Box could be damaged or destroyed by a malware attack, said Michael D. Smith, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who specializes in cybersecurity.
And in cases where a security breach occurs, the Black Key could be used by an adversary to spy on your private communications.
The government has also been increasingly using Black Keys to spy in cyberspace, Smith said.
The threat has grown so large, some security experts say they are starting to rethink the way they use the Black Aces, a device that is designed to only be used for surveillance purposes.
The FBI’s use of Black Keys has become so extensive that the agency is now using them to spy even when there is no reason to, the FBI’s former director, Christopher Wray, told reporters last month.
But experts say the FBI has to weigh the potential risks against the potential benefits of the devices.
“I think we need to take into account the potential for misuse,” said Steve Hall, a senior research associate at the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab.
“There is potential for that to happen.”
The FBI has also recently announced that it will buy back its Black Cabs, which it discontinued in 2010.
But security experts worry that the Blackkeys will continue to be used in ways that will not be detected by any of the agency’s existing security tools.
And, they say, they have been used by some federal agencies and contractors to hack into and steal computer systems that do not belong to them.
“The Black Keys were really only ever used by people who had access to government-issued devices and who were willing to do it for a fee,” Smith said, “and so they have a pretty high risk profile.”
The government can easily reverse the damage caused by these devices, experts point out.
If an adversary tries to break into your Black Cable, for example, it could easily destroy it by hacking into your private email, passwords or other sensitive data.
And if you have an active password reset, that could easily be used against you.
The devices are often used by government agencies to hack onto computers, but they are also used by businesses to access and store data.
“It’s not like you’re storing your own data on it,” Smith added.
“If someone is accessing your Black Key, they can probably access your personal data.
So the government has a real opportunity to get at that data if they can get access to it.”
The devices can be expensive, and even if the BlackCables are taken off their shelves, there are still a number of companies that still make them, according.
But Smith said that the government’s continued reliance on the Blackcables could have serious implications for the security of these devices and their owners.
“As soon as the Black keys are out there, it will be very hard to get a fix for it,” he said.