An audacious hacker has posted a large cache of photographs and emails stolen from the email accounts of friends and relatives of former presidents George HW Bush and his son George W Bush, investigative magazine The Smoking Gun has reported.
In a spiteful event reminiscent of the hacking of Sarah Palin in 2008 but on a much larger and intimate scale, the hack underlines that prominent people are still incredibly vulnerable to this kind of attack when they or their families insist on using public email services with no extra security in place.
Cleverly, the attack by ‘Guccifer’ appears to have gained access to the ex-presidents by opening the back door, targeting at least six email accounts belonging to Bush Senior’s family and friends, including his daughter, his wife’s brother and his sister-in-law, as well as several friends.
From this, the attacker gained access to numerous images of family life, including two painted self-portraits of the younger George Bush in the bath and shower, as well as numerous private photographs taken of other family members.
It is the emails that will cause the greater disquiet, however, including one mentioning the four-number PIN code required for a friend to clear a security gate to George Bush Senior’s address as well as several others discussing his recent medical problems in embarrassing detail.
Stolen emails go back as 2009, the site said. ““Why would someone do this?,” Dorothy Bush (George Bush Senior’s daughter) responded when contacted for a response to the hacks.
The answer is simply because they can. Online email services are inherently risky.
Inevitably, the Secret Service is doing its detective work.
"We are investigating the incident. Beyond that I can't get into anything else," a spokesman reportedly told the Houston Chronicle.
For now, Guccifer seems unconcerned, confident he can dodge the law and what would be serious hacking charges if he is caught. Beyond the fame of the family whose private life he has managed compromise, the motivation is unclear.
The authorities begun investigating him “a long time ago” he told the Smoking Gun, and the latest hacks were only a handful of the hundreds he had carried out, he claimed.
It is a certainty that the two former presidents will have had good security advice regarding their personal data but that is not always easy to extend to their extended networks. Any one individual can become a point of weakness.
Commentators will point to the Sarah Palin hack by the son of prominent Memphis Democratic politician Mike Kernell as the precedent, but a better thematic example might be the closing of the Twitter account of Michael Dell’s daughter in August 2012 after she started broadcasting information that could have compromised her security and that of her billionaire father.
Although not a hack per se, it was an example of how security can be blindsided by weaknesses that are hard to anticipate. That includes the poor passwords of friends and aassociates.
Could the attacks have been defended against?
"This should serve as a reminder to everyone that public email systems are accessible to the world and protected solely by a password. If that password is easily guessable, compromise is trivial,” commented Zsacler ThreatLabZ Vp of security, Michael Sutton.