German police arrest 19-year-old IT worker over government data attack

News by Tom Reeve

German police have arrested a 19-year-old man on suspicion of hacking German politicians and celebrities while cyber agency admits it knew about attacks weeks before informing police and politicians.


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German police have arrested a 19-year-old man in Heilbronn, Germany on suspicion of hacking German politicians and celebrities.

The arrest follows tip-offs on social media.

A large data breach was reported on Friday involving hundreds of high-profile victims and gigabytes of data. It was released throughout the month of December on social media in an ‘advent calendar’ teaser style campaign.

In a further new development, German officials have admitted that they were aware of the data breach in early December, weeks before they disclosed the attacks to the police and politicians. Politicians have expressed anger that they were not informed of the attacks sooner, but the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) said it had worked with affected politicians from the early days, adding that it had also taken time to understand the full extent of the breach.

At the same time, the race is on to attribute the attacks with some pundits opting for the "usual suspects" approach and naming the Russians as the antagonist while the interior minister of the German state of Bavaria believes it is just a single culprit.

In an interview with Bild, Bavaria’s interior minister Joachim Herrmann, a member of the CSU party, said that the attack did not come from a foreign intelligence service. "There are many indications that this is a single hacker," he said.

Bild said that the suspect, identified only as ‘Jan S.’, is 19 years old and works in the IT sector. He is said to be cooperative but is denying any involvement in the attack.

Herrmann said prosecutors should take a harder line against hackers in general. "We have a loose view of some hackers, as if it were a kind of popular sport. No, these are criminals and they must be prosecuted as well," he said.

But Herrmann was also critical of the BSI’s slow response. "I was amazed how this was communicated. That was surprising. The Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) has to explain what information it had when – and what had been done," he said.

Federal interior minister Horst Seehofer, a member of the CSU party, plans to meet with the president of the BSI Arne Schönbohm and the president of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) Holger Münch.

Schönbohm has defended the BSI, saying it was only responsible for defending government networks which were not breached. Indications are that the attacker was able to breach private communication networks and services for which the BSI only provides advisory support. The BSI warned ahead of the 2017 national elections that data held on social networks and cloud services was not well encrypted, if encrypted at all, leaving it vulnerable to attack.

A working breakfast in spring 2017 held by the BSI to help parliamentarians secure their data was not well attended, the BSI indicated. 

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