Computer specialist investigated over link to German data theft

Investigators say they have questioned several people in relation to mass data hack

The German interior ministry in Berlin. Federal investigators said they had searched the apartment of a witness in the southern city of Heilbronn. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The German interior ministry in Berlin. Federal investigators said they had searched the apartment of a witness in the southern city of Heilbronn. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

Germany’s politicians are abandoning Twitter in response to a mass data hack that saw the first police breakthrough on Monday.

Up to 1,000 politicians, journalists and others had their private data – text messages, mails, photographs and contact details – stolen and leaked online in what authorities are calling a “very, very serious” hack.

Those affected by the attack have been instructed on how to improve their online security but some have drawn their own conclusions.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck has deleted his Facebook and Twitter profiles in response to the theft of his and family information – and also to criticism over the tone of his online postings.

“Clearly Twitter triggers something in me,” he wrote. “To be more aggressive, louder, more polemical and blunt, and this with a speed that makes it difficult to leave room for thought.”

While his drastic social media detox prompted mixed reactions, German security and intelligence officials met on Monday to discuss the hack.

German federal police and cyber security authorities have been criticised for confused communication over the attack and claims they were aware last month of the attack – at least in five cases – but had not realised the scale of it.

Federal investigators say they have questioned several people in relation to the attack.

Apartment searched

On Monday they announced they had searched the apartment of a witness the previous day in the southern city of Heilbronn.

The man, identified locally as 19-year-old computer specialist Jan Schürlein, denied he was behind the attack but claims to have had contact with someone allegedly involved with the data theft.

Mr Schürlein, who said the hacker used online identities “0rbit” and “Nullr0uter”, had his own brush with German investigators in 2015 after he was allegedly behind a so-called denial-of-service attack that hit the messenger application WhatsApp.

After that attack, police raided his home and seized his computer equipment.

He posted a video online about his experiences after that, prompting anonymous contact from someone behind the more recent hack.

Mr Schürlein has insisted he is only a witness in the case, has denied he was the hacker, and produced screenshots of his online chats to prove this. The identity of the hacker – a person, persons or an intelligence service – is still unknown.

“It seems I have been under police observation for weeks and have no hardware for the last four weeks,” the 19-year-old IT specialist wrote on Twitter, complaining that police had seized his computer equipment for a second time. “Given that how, in any way, can I be 0rbit?”