A hacker has accessed 40.000 emails of MEPs and other staff of the European Parliament (EP), triggering a discussion about how vulnerable the parliament’s IT systems are to simple cyber attacks.
The hacker told the French website Mediapart yesterday that he succeeded in breaching the EP’s security using elementary computer equipment and “a few bits of knowledge that everyone is capable of finding on the Internet”.
He said his operation was aimed at raising awareness of how vulnerable the EP’s computer systems are to simple cyber attacks.
Today Austrian MEP Martin Ehrenhauser received a USB key with metadata of 40.000 emails, including the subject line, date, sender, recipient and the file name of attachments, Spiegel Online reports.
According to the report, the list does not only contain emails from staff of the European Parliament, but also the European Commission, the German Bundestag, parties and lobby groups.
Although a connection between the file and the cyber attack has yet to be established, Ehrenhauser considers it very likely that the two events relate to one another.
Out-of-date software made communication vulnerable
The breach of the EP’s protection measures, which the hacker described as a “child’s play”, has started a discussion about the parliament’s IT security.
Dutch MEP Sophia in’t Veld said that problems with the EP’s computer systems had been known for years.
Marjory Van den Broeke, the head of the EP press unit, said the IT services were investigating how the attack could happen: “It’s a technical issue, depending on the outcome of the investigation, we’ll see if and what measures should be taken.
According to Spiegel Online, the IT systems in the European Parliament are using old software, with some of the computers running the 12-year old Windows XP.
Jan Phillip Albrecht, MEP and data protection expert, said the EP was using software without knowing if back doors were built in. “We have been campaigning to use open source software for ten years”, he said.
The EP’s IT services forbid MEPs to encrypt their emails, Spiegel Online reports.
While investigating NSA spying activities, the hacking attack shows how vulnerable the EP is not only to big intelligence services, but also to a single hacker sitting outside the parliament building in Strasbourg.