European Parliament hacked – attacker describes stealing 40.000 emails as “child’s play”

European Parliament in Strasbourg

Vulnerabilty of EP computers has been know for years, MEPs say (CC United Nations Photo)

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Out-of-date software made communication vulnerable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.

Why Another Blog About Europe?

There are plenty of blogs about European politics and policy out there. So why do we need another one?

First of all, I believe that the European Union should matter a great deal to its countries’ citizens because the decisions taken in Brussels and Strasbourg affect our daily lives. After the financial crisis in 2008, the union is urged to come to an understanding what it will look like in the future.

Europeans, however, seem to care less and less about the EU: The turnout at the European elections fell steadily from 62 per cent in 1979 to only 43 per cent in 2009.

Scientifically speaking, it might not be valid to talk about European citizens’ interest in the European Union based merely on election turnouts. Nevertheless, the figures show that an increasing number of them forgoes its possibility to participate in European politics.

What does the future hold for the EU?

European Union flag (CC 2.0 Horia Varlan)

So here I am, a young journalist who wants to raise awareness of the EU’s importance. I will surely not be able to change the course of history, but might provoke some people to rethink their opinion on the European Union.

On “Verging on Europe” I will write about news stories, provide you with background on European institutions and try to take a step back from day-to-day business in order to explain what I consider essential for the EU’s future.

The European Union is a complicated complex of nations. Therefore, I will try to include viewpoints from different member states – as far as possible (I am German and currently live in the UK.).

Enjoy reading! And let me know what the European Union should look like in your opinion!