Feeds

Climategate cops: We'll NEVER solve email leak hack riddle

Probe axed after inside job ruled out

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Detectives have shelved an investigation into the high-profile hacking of computers at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU).

The so-called Climategate attack led to 1,079 messages and more than 3,800 documents being leaked online in November 2009. Critics of the unit's work seized upon the messages to suggest the team had misled the public and scientific community about its research into climate change, a charge scientists at the CRU were quick to deny.

A subsequent parliamentary study cleared the boffins of misconduct although mildly criticised their lack of transparency and sharing of data.

The question of who was behind the hack prompted almost as many conspiracy theories as the debate on global warming. Norfolk police were called in to investigate the breach, however two years into probe the force has admitted it's hit a dead end. There is little prospect of making any arrests before the three-year statute of limitation expires for the offences at the centre of the case, the cops admitted.

In a statement, Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory, the senior investigating officer, said:

Despite detailed and comprehensive enquiries, supported by experts in this field, the complex nature of this investigation means that we do not have a realistic prospect of identifying the offender or offenders and launching criminal proceedings within the time constraints imposed by law.

The international dimension of investigating the World Wide Web especially has proved extremely challenging.

However, as a result of our enquiries, we can say that the data breach was the result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s data files, carried out remotely via the internet. The offenders used methods common in unlawful internet activity to obstruct enquiries.

DS Gregory was at least able to dismiss early speculation that the hack might be an inside job.

"There is no evidence to suggest that anyone working at or associated with the University of East Anglia was involved in the crime," he said. The investigation, codenamed Operation Cabin, was backed by computer crime specialists from the Metropolitan Police.

In a statement, the vice-chancellor of the university and the unit's boss together the expressed disappointment that police effort had failed to apprehend a culprit. Prof Phil Jones, research director of the CRU, vowed to continue his work.

Prof Jones said: “I would like to thank the police for their work on this difficult investigation and also for the personal support they offered me. I am obviously disappointed that no one has been prosecuted for this crime but hope today’s announcement will draw a line under the stressful events of the last two and half years. My colleagues and I remain committed to the research CRU undertakes to illuminate the globally important issue of climate change.”

An analysis of the possible hacking techniques used to pull off the Climategate breach, and steps used to anonymously upload the swiped data, can be found in a blog post by Rob Graham of Errata Security here. The article, written in the days immediately after the data raid, stated that the hacker used "open proxies" to disguise his or her identity, and took issue with the conclusion that the techniques used were sophisticated.

What's not in dispute is that the trail to the Climategate hacker has long since gone cold.

Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at net security firm Sophos, commented: "Unless someone associated with the hack owns up to their involvement, it seems that the story of Climategate may remain a mystery." ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.