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

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.

UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh 'Beatle' held in Syria

Updated 18 January 2019

UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh 'Beatle' held in Syria

  • El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year
  • United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way

LONDON: The mother of one of the British Daesh militants suspected of murdering western hostages, lost a legal challenge on Friday that it was wrong for Britain to assist a US investigation which could lead to them facing the death penalty.
Britons El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey — two of a notorious group of British fighters nicknamed “The Beatles” — are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year.
The United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way of any future US prosecution that would seek the death penalty, waiving a long-standing objection to executions.
Elsheikh’s mother, Maha El Gizouli, had sought a judicial review, saying it was unlawful for Britain’s interior minister to provide mutual legal assistance in a case which could lead to prosecutions for offenses which carried the death penalty.
Her lawyers said the minister’s actions were flawed, inconsistent with Britain’s unequivocal opposition to the death penalty and violated her son’s human rights. However, London’s High Court disagreed and dismissed her claim.
“My priority has always been to ensure we deliver justice for the victims’ families and that the individuals suspected of these sickening crimes face prosecution as quickly as possible,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid said.
“Our long-standing opposition to the death penalty has not changed. Any evidence shared with the US in this case must be for the express purpose of progressing a federal prosecution.”
The most notorious of the four of the so-called Beatles was Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who is believed to have been killed in a US-British missile strike in 2015.
He became a public face of Daesh and appeared in videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages.
“This group of terrorists is associated with some of the most barbaric crimes committed during the conflict in Syria,” Graeme Biggar, Director of National Security at Britain’s interior ministry, said in a written statement to the court.
Britain has said it does not want the men repatriated to the United Kingdom and their British citizenship has been withdrawn.
British prosecutors concluded they did not have the evidence to launch their own case against the men but US officials then expressed frustration with the British stance of seeking an assurance that US prosecutors would not call for the death penalty, court documents showed.
However, last June, British ministers and senior officials decided the best way of ensuring a prosecution and to protect US relations was to seek no such assurance in this case.
That decision provoked criticism from opposition lawmakers and from some in the government’s own party who accused ministers of secretly abandoning Britain’s opposition to the death penalty.