International

20-year old German confesses to mass data leak

London, Jan 8 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 1/8/2019 10:56:20 AM IST

A 20-year-old man has made a “comprehensive” confession that he was behind a data breach affecting hundreds of high-profile Germans, police say.

Styling himself “G0d”, he published private information about politicians, journalists, and celebrities on Twitter, under the username @_0rbit. Investigators said the man was still in education and living with his parents. The suspect said he acted alone and out of annoyance at statements made by the public figures he attacked. About 1,000 people were affected, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Politicians from every major political party except for the far-right AfD were targeted, although investigators said they had yet to find evidence of the suspect’s political inclinations.

Germany’s federal criminal police (BKA) said the information published online included telephone numbers, addresses, credit card data, photographs, and private communications.

Investigators said the German citizen they arrested had co-operated and led them to evidence they may not have found without help. Police are also still investigating seized computer hardware.

In a statement, the BKA said he was detained after a search of his home in the state of Hesse on Sunday. He is accused of spying and the unauthorised publication of data.

His provisional arrest, however, was lifted on Monday evening. He was released “due to a lack of grounds for detention”, police said. They took into account both his age and his co-operation. The @_0rbit Twitter account has been suspended since coming to widespread attention late last week. Before then, it published the leaked information in an “advent calendar event” each day in December. Its biography had described itself as involved in “security research”.

Of the almost 1,000 politicians, celebrities and journalists affected by the leak, some 50 attacks were “more serious”, involving private correspondence or photos, officials said.

The fallout has created widespread alarm politically. Robert Habeck, leader of the Greens, deleted both his Twitter and Facebook accounts on Monday after being affected by the data breach. 

Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was due to give further details about the fallout from the breach. The suspect has told police he acted alone.

Investigators, quoted by DPA, said the 20-year-old had taught himself the skills he needed using online resources, and had no training in computer science.

The private information seems to have been acquired over a substantial period of time in 2018 in what officials called a “sophisticated” operation, and added to publicly available information.

He “exploited several vulnerabilities”, investigators said, adding that several such security gaps have since been fixed. A cyber analyst also told the BBC there was speculation that hackers might have exploited weaknesses in email software to get hold of passwords that those targeted had also used on social media accounts.

It has also emerged that German officials knew of at least one attack last year, but thought it was an isolated case.

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