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German politicians’ personal data posted online; government probes source of attack

German politicians’ personal data posted online; government probes source of attack
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks in the Bundestag on Nov. 21. (Ralf Hirschberger / Associated Press)

Personal data and documents on hundreds of German politicians and others have been posted online, and the German government said authorities were examining Friday how the information was obtained.

A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Martina Fietz, said the chancellery was informed of the matter on Thursday evening. She said politicians at all levels, including the European, German and state parliaments as well as at municipal level, appeared to have been affected.

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“The German government takes this incident very seriously,” she said, adding that its cyber-defense center was looking into the matter.

She told reporters that “as regards the chancellery, it appears at first sight that no sensitive information and data are included in what was published, including regarding the chancellor.”

Public broadcaster RBB first reported on the issue Friday morning. It said there appeared to be no system to what was posted via a Twitter account.

Although the data reportedly include information such as cellphone numbers, addresses, internal party communications and in some cases personal bills and credit card details — some of the data years old — RBB said there seemed to be no politically sensitive documents. News agency dpa reported that the information included a fax number and email address belonging to Merkel and several letters to and from the chancellor.

The Twitter account in question, which was still online early Friday with about 17,000 followers but had been suspended by around midday, had been active since mid-2017.

The links it posted suggested that information on politicians from all parties in parliament except the far-right Alternative for Germany had been shared in daily batches before Christmas, along with data on YouTubers and other public figures, but Interior Ministry spokesman Soeren Schmidt said it appeared that all parties in parliament had been affected. The last post was on Dec. 28.

“By what means these data that have now been published were obtained can’t be stated with certainty at this time,” Schmidt said at a regular government news conference in Berlin. That means authorities can’t say whether a hacker attack was to blame, he added.

However, the government’s IT security agency said its initial analysis was that government networks weren’t affected.

Germany has seen cyberattacks on government and parliament computer systems in recent years. Fietz, the government spokeswoman, cautioned that previous experience suggested that such data dumps can include fake data.

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