US 'used malware and Facebook' to hack French president's team

Summary:The staff of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy fell victim to a hack attack while he was still in office, and the finger of blame is being pointed at the US.

Advisors to ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy suffered a hack earlier this year. But rather than a hostile state, the perpetrators of the hack were apparently from one of France's allies — the US.

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Advisers to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy were reportedly hacked. Image: Downing Street/Flickr

According to French magazine L'Express, the hack took place during the second round of the French presidential election — the election that then-incumbent Sarkozy would lose to current president François Hollande.

The hackers that hit Sarkozy's team used both malware and social engineering techniques to get access to "secret notes" and "strategic plans", L'Express said on Tuesday.

"It's the work of a real pro, and worthy of the last James Bond film. And, as is often the case with this type of attack, human negligence was at the heart of the catastrophe," it added.

Posing as a friend of someone who worked for the president's office (known as l'Elysée) on Facebook, the hackers succeeded in getting the worker to click on a link that took them to a fake Elysée webpage, where they entered their real login and password details.

The hackers were then able to get into the real Elysée network, from where they spread a worm bearing a resemblance to the Flame malware  — thought to have been created by the US and Israeli governments. The worm was able to get them into the systems of Sarkozy's advisors and extract sensitive information, the magazine reports.

While only a few computers were affected, they were machines belonging to some of the most influential individuals in Sarkozy's inner circle, including the French secretary general. Sarkozy himself, however, escaped — as he didn't have a PC.

France's 'cyberdetectives' were put to work tracking down the assailants. According to information given by various sources to L'Express, the body of evidence pointed to one of France's oldest allies — the US.

But why? According to an anonymous source, Uncle Sam wanted to check that France was still on its side.

"You can be on very good terms with a 'friendly country' and at the same time want to be assured of its unwavering support, particularly during a period of political change," the source told L'Express.

The US embassy has denied the allegations.

Topics: Security, EU, Government

About

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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