A stolen cache of personal information belonging to nearly 1,000 German politicians — including outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel — has been leaked, according to a report published Thursday.
The information includes everything from phone numbers and credit card details to private messages with family members, German media said.
The hack has impacted national, regional and EU politicians from all major parties except for members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD) party. Journalists, musicians, comedians and activists were also targeted.
There is currently no indication of who was behind the attack, but the hacker or hackers leaked information for more than a month on Twitter before the media picked it up.
The scale of the hack was first reported by RBB, leading Justice Minister Katarina Barley to call it a “serious attack” Friday morning.
“The people behind this want to damage confidence in our democracy and institutions," Barley said.
The federal office for information security (BSI) said Friday it was investigating, adding that government networks had not been affected.
A hacker or group of hackers spent months — possibly years — collecting highly personal data on hundreds of German politicians, as well as dozens of journalists, artists and activists.
The hackers were active until at least October 2018 based on the leaked information.
They began publishing it piece-by-piece last month, promoting it on Twitter in the style of an advent calendar. However, the scale of the attack was only discovered by German media this week.
The Twitter account, which has more than 17,000 followers, described itself as security research, artistry and satire.
The information was still publicly available online as of Friday morning.
How was the information obtained?
How the information was obtained is unclear, but it does not appear to be from a single central source. Instead, the hackers appear to have compromised individual accounts of the victims, including Outlook email accounts as well as social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter.
What information was leaked?
Pretty much everything.
From work emails between politicians to vacation photos and private family conversations, the hackers appear to have been able to pilfer a huge amount of highly personal information.
Credit card information, phone numbers, addresses, ID scans and household bills were also published.
While the information could be embarrassing for the victims, it could also lead to political scandal. One Bild journalist, Julian Röpcke, who says he has only searched three percent of the cache, claimed he had “already found cases of corruption and bad political scandals.”
Who has been impacted?
Aside from AfD politicians, it appears every member of the Bundestag — Germany's national parliament — has been hit, including the entire cabinet, the chancellor and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The hackers were also able to steal data from the parties’ headquarters — except for the AfD — the EU parliament and regional party groups.
Who was behind the attack?
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The website where the data was published is linked to an address in Hamburg, but such registration information is easily spoofed.
As with every major cyber attack against the West, Russia is among the chief suspects. While there is no indication yet that the Kremlin orchestrated the attack, it was blamed last February for a hack on the German foreign and defense ministries that began in 2017.
Russia was also blamed for an attack on the Bundestag computers network back in 2015.
Because no AfD politicians details have been leaked, and because the cache included information on many left-leaning activists and artists, some have blamed the far-right for the leak — but there is no evidence to support that claim.
When asked if they were behind the leak, AfD told Euronews: “Are you kidding?”
The BSI is reportedly liaising with the foreign intelligence agencies to ascertain the origin of the attack.
Cover image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks for the last time as leader of the CDU at the 31st National Party Conference of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) on December 07, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany. (Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)