Shaken by massive leak, Germany warns of hacking risk in European election


BERLIN — Lawmakers need to brace for hacking attempts ahead of a European election and get better at protecting their information online, Germanys interior minister warned in the aftermath of a breach that exposed the private data of almost 1,000 German politicians.

“Were facing European elections in May of this year,” Horst Seehofer told journalists Tuesday. “I dont want to conjure up or predict anything, but we have to brace ourselves for preventing attempts to influence those elections.”

Seehofer announced efforts to increase cybersecurity awareness among public figures and Germanys general population, in addition to plans for a yet-to-be-developed “early warning system” that could alert authorities and individuals about their private information being shared online.

Earlier on Tuesday, authorities announced that they have released a 20-year-old student after he confessed to publishing a data dump with information about more than 1,000 public figures, including high-ranking politicians up to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Authorities said they believe the suspect, who lives with his parents, acted by himself, and that no foreign government was behind the breach. The suspect could be charged with spying on peoples private data and face years in prison, but was released as police dont consider him a flight risk.

Among the political parties represented in the German parliament, only the far-right Alternative for Germany was not affected by the leak.

The fact that an individual perpetrator was apparently able to gain access to — in some cases highly personal — information about 994 current and former politicians, using what seem to be fairly trivial means, has officials in Europes largest economy alarmed.

Although the leaked data was obtained by breaking into private accounts, according to German police, and none of it came from hacking into the German governments network, calls for tightening data security laws are gathering speed in Berlin.

Seehofer, who is also party chief of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), said Tuesday that in addition to boosting the staff of Germanys Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) by 350 full-time positions — something that had been approved by parliament before news about the recent data breach broke — he wants to expand the BSIs duties. Currently in charge of securing the government network, its remit could broaden to include educating Germanys general population about cyberthreats.

He added that the experience in recent days would also likely lead to additions to the planned update of Germanys 2015 IT security law, which the interior ministry expects to submit to parliament for revisal within the first half of this year.

No predominantly political motive

The suspect, who was not identified by name, was arrested Sunday after police raided his home in the state of Hesse. He was released the following day after admitting to publishing the data.

The data was uploaded to various online platforms that allow for sharing content anonymously, and links to the files were later posted to a Twitter account.

From December 1-24, in the style of an “advent calendar,” a new link leading to more documents was posted every day. One additional link was posted on December 28. The published files included private emails, Facebook messages, cell phone numbers, photographs, home addresses, the scans of national ID cards and bank account information.

Seehofer said that Twitter deactivated the account last Friday, less than an hour and a half after the social media giant was contacted by the BSI.

Among the political parties represented in the German parliament, only the far-right Alternative for Germany was not affected by the leak.

But Holger Münch, the president of Germanys Federal Criminal Police, said Tuesday that after interrogating the suspect, his office does “not see a predominantly political motive” behind the breach.

Judith Mischke contributed reporting.

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