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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In March the National Security Agency released an internal malware research tool for free to the public, a first for the secretive agency. Six months later, by most indications, the release is an even bigger event than the NSA thought.

Why it matters: Some aspects of researching malware have long required expensive software. The release of Ghidra, the NSA tool, has profoundly changed the field, opening it up to students, part-timers and hobbyists who otherwise couldn't afford to participate.

It's been a good six months for Ghidra. The software has been downloaded more than 500,000 times from GitHub.

  • "We had a bet on how many downloads it would be," Brian Knighton, senior researcher at the NSA, told Axios. "We were off by quite a factor."
  • Ghidra also netted the NSA two nominations for "Pwnie" awards at the typically NSA-adverse DEF CON hacker conference this week.
  • The NSA was also pleasantly surprised with the number of outside developers modifying code and creating new features for the now open-source program.
  • The toolkit is popular enough that the NSA now offers touring classes on Ghidra for colleges and universities.

The big picture: It's still too early to judge Ghidra's success based on its use in published malware research or incidents in which hackers have been thwarted. But based on engagement of new and old researchers alike, that kind of evidence seems likely to follow.

The background: Ghidra is a reverse-engineering tool that allows researchers to translate computer-executable programs into human-readable programming language commands.

When Ghidra was released, observers speculated that the purpose of the release was to create a global research explosion to counter national threats.

  • That was certainly one NSA goal. But another that's been overlooked is cutting down the training time for NSA recruitment.
  • “Now we can hire someone who has already used Ghidra,” said Knighton.

Knighton will present an update on Ghidra at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference Thursday, including new NSA-developed features and answers to some of the lingering questions about the program.

  • “We’ll explain why we called it 'Ghidra',” said Knighton, which is still an open question, beyond the fact that King Ghidra is a formidable rival of Godzilla.
  • More practically, the conference talk will address the choice to design the program in Java, a programming language that some experts now view as cumbersome and dated.

Go deeper

MacKenzie Scott donates another $2.7 billion to 286 organizations

MacKenzie Scott with her former husband, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon. Photo by Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

MacKenzie Scott announced Tuesday that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, had donated $2.74 billion to 286 different organizations, including community-based nonprofits and organizations focused on racial justice.

Why it matters: It's the next phase of what the New York Times describes as a "highly unconventional approach" to philanthropy from one of the richest women in the world.

Heat wave enveloping West will shatter records, spark wildfires

The sun sets behind power lines in Rosemead, California on June 14, 2021, amid an early season heatwave across much of California this week. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

A dangerous and widespread mid-June heat wave is bringing blowtorch-like heat, skyrocketing power demand, and “critical” wildfire danger to much of the West Tuesday through this weekend.

Why it matters: The heat is building in a region that is experiencing a record drought, leading to dangerous fire weather conditions, straining electrical grids, and causing water supplies to dwindle further. The heat itself may prove deadly.

Politico's top editor leaving for NBC

Screenshot: Youtube

Politico’s top editor Carrie Budoff Brown is joining NBC in a high-level executive position at the network that includes overseeing the "Meet the Press" franchise, sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Budoff Brown has been with Politico since its earliest days in 2007 and is admired among newsroom staff. Her departure will be a major loss to the organization.