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News of the World hacker named after court block lifted

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A man accused of hacking into the computers of a former British Army intelligence officer on behalf of a News of the World editor has been named as Philip Campbell Smith, also a former British Army intelligence officer.

Ex-agent Ian Hurst told the Levenson media-ethics inquiry that in July 2006 he received and inadvertently activated a trojan, which then copied his emails to the hacker who created it. Hurst confronted Smith over the issue, and recorded him admitting to sending the trojan malware to his system. It is claimed that Smith was acting on behalf of a private investigator, Jonathan Rees, who was under contract to the News of the World, aka NotW.

"He states for a three-month period, and all documents he could access via the back door trojan: our emails, the hard drive, social media, the whole range of – I mean, he didn't say this, but the trojan that we've identified would have allowed the cam, your web cam, so he could have actually seen me or my kids at the desk," Hurst told the inquiry into press standards, The Guardian reports.

Hurst was targeted as one of the few men who knew the real identity of an IRA informer dubbed "SteakKnife". An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama claimed that Rees hired Smith to carry out the hacking at the instigation of Alex Marunchak, then an Ireland editor for the NotW under editor Andy Coulson, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister David Cameron’s spin doctor when the hacking scandal broke. In one recording made by Hurst, Smith said: "I got introduction in [sic] Andy Coulson … on my phone, he's the first name that appears before yours. I ended up deleting it."

Smith’s identity had been sealed under court order, following a separate case against him for having three rounds of ammunition in his possession, in which he pleaded guilty. He has also pled guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by illegally obtaining confidential information.

The NotW senior management have admitted that phone hacking of people’s voicemail messages did occur in some cases, but computer hacking has always been denied. Several politicians and celebrities as well as lawyers involved in the inquiry have reported to the Leveson inquiry their suspicions that their email was hacked, but nothing has been proven.

In the opinion of this El Reg hack, it’s certainly likely that such hacking took place. Once someone has taken the (im)moral decision to hack into someone’s voicemail for fun and/or profit, then it’s a logical next step to check out their email as well, and virus-generation kits to do it can be had online for less than $500. It may not be too long before the NotW's parent company, Rupert Murdoch's News International, faces another round of settlements as a result of this latest move. ®

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