German hacker confesses to massive data leak, spurred by ‘annoyance’

Authorities have said that almost 1,000 people were affected by the data breach, which include members of all parties in the parliament except those from the far-right Alternative for Germany party. (AFP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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German hacker confesses to massive data leak, spurred by ‘annoyance’

  • Police office and Frankfurt prosecutors will hold a news conference later in the day
  • Extensive personal data was published in up to 60 cases

BERLIN: German authorities on Tuesday said a 20-year-old hacker had confessed to stealing and leaking private data from hundreds of politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, because he was “annoyed” by some of their public statements.

The young German, who lives with his parents, was taken into custody after police searched the family home in the western state of Hesse on Sunday.

The suspect was not remanded in custody however because he was fully cooperating with the enquiry and not deemed a flight risk, said Georg Ungefuk, a spokesman for the Frankfurt prosecution service’s Internet crime office ZIT.

“The accused said he published the data because he had been annoyed by certain statements made by those affected,” Ungefuk told a press conference in Wiesbaden.

The suspect, who because of his young age falls under juvenile law in Germany, told police he acted alone.

Ungefuk added that the young man had shown “clear remorse” about the stunning cybersecurity breach, which affected around 1,000 German politicians, journalists and celebrities and piled political pressure on the government.

The information leaked online comprised home addresses, mobile phone numbers, letters, invoices and copies of identity documents. The data was first released via Twitter in December but its spread gathered pace last week.

Among those hit were members of the Bundestag lower house of parliament and the European Parliament as well as regional and local assemblies.

Deputies from all parties represented in the Bundestag were targeted with the exception of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the largest opposition group in parliament.

Speaking at the same press conference, the head of cybersecurity at Germany’s Federal Police Office (BKA), Heiko Loehr, said it was too soon to say whether the suspect was acting out of far-right sympathies.

“We are still investigating his motives and whether they may have been criminal or politically motivated,” he told reporters, adding that police were also working to confirm whether the suspect did indeed work alone.

Investigators have seized computers and hard drives from the scene that were now being combed over by experts, Ungefuk added.

He confirmed media reports that the suspect had tried to destroy a computer before the raid, but said investigators were still able to retrieve data from the damaged device.

Although the leak was sweeping, there is no evidence that sensitive information reached the public, investigators and the interior ministry have said.

In the vast majority of cases, only basic contact information was made available.

The leak has nevertheless been deeply embarrassing for the political class, exposing a naive and sometimes reckless use of computer networks, and turned up the heat on the unpopular interior minister, Horst Seehofer.

Critics said the ministry and relevant authorities were slow in informing affected politicians of the leak and moving to stop it.

Seehofer is due to speak to reporters in the afternoon.

Beyond politicians, the leak also exposed the private data of celebrities and journalists, including chats and voicemail messages from spouses and children of those targeted.

The information derived both from social media and private “cloud” data.

The Twitter account @_0rbit published the links last month, along the lines of an advent calendar with each link to new information hidden behind a “door.”

The account, which calls itself G0d and has now been suspended by Twitter, was opened in mid-2017 and purportedly has more than 18,000 followers.

It described its activities as “security researching,” “artist” and “satire and irony” and said it was based in Hamburg.

Justice Minister Katarina Barley, who last week had labeled the data dump an attack on “our democracy and its institutions,” called on Internet service providers and social networks “to shut down accounts as soon as they have been hacked.”

German politicians and lawmakers have repeatedly fallen victim to cyberattacks in recent years.

In 2015, the Bundestag network was hit by a malware attack later blamed on Russian hackers.

In March last year, computer networks belonging to the German government came under sustained attack and data from foreign ministry staff was stolen.

At the time, Moscow denied that Russian hackers were involved.


Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

Updated 30 sec ago
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Four charged over MH17, Russia slams ‘unfounded allegations’

  • Investigation team said in May 2018 that BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit Boeing 777 had originated from 53rd Russian military brigade
  • One of the accused Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved

NIEUWGEIN: International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the first people to face justice over the tragedy five years ago in which 298 people were killed.
The trial of the four men with military and intelligence links will start in the Netherlands in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals.
Moscow slammed the “absolutely unfounded accusations” over the downing of the plane, which was traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels.
The Dutch-led inquiry team said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”
“We won’t demand their extradition because Russian and Ukrainian law forbids the extradition of their nationals. But we ask Russia once more to cooperate — many of our questions remain unanswered,” he told a press conference.
The same investigation team said in May 2018 that the BUK anti-aircraft missile which hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 welcomed the news.
“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters. “I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.”
Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: “Mr (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”
Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP that it was “very important news.”
“The relatives of the victims have been waiting for this for nearly five years,” he said.
Girkin, 48, is the most high-profile suspect, having previously been the self-proclaimed defense minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine before apparently falling out with the Kremlin.
Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved. “I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Dubinskiy, 56, who was formerly in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, was head of the intelligence service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, while Pulatov, 52, an ex-soldier in the GRU’s Spetznaz special forces unit, was one of his deputies.
Kharchenko was a military commander in Donetsk at the time, the Dutch prosecutors said.
During the press conference by the investigators, number of telephone intercepts were played that they said showed the four were involved.
Russia vehemently denied all involvement, and complained that it had been excluded from the probe.
“Once again, absolutely unfounded accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.
Despite claims by Ukraine’s government and Dutch media that senior Russian officers would also face charges, none were named by the prosecutors on Wednesday.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, representing the countries hardest hit by the disaster.
The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian.
Australia said Wednesday’s announcement was a “significant step” toward achieving justice, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said it was “an important milestone in the efforts to uncover the full truth.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Russia to “acknowledge its responsibility,” while the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s said he hoped to see “everyone who is to blame for the murder of innocent children, women and men” go on trial.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.