Feeds

Sacre Bleu! US fingered for Flame attack on Élysée Palace

Reports from France say May hit covered up by Sarkozy team

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

US-sponsored snoopers hacked into the computers of the Élysée Palace earlier this year ahead of the French presidential election and lifted top secret information, using what appears to be the notorious Flame malware, a French newspaper has alleged.

The attack, which occurred in May a few days before the second round of the election, was first revealed by French media in July, although the details have been largely suppressed until now by the Palace, according to L’Express.

The paper claims hackers gained entry to the computers thanks to simple social engineering on Facebook – befriending workers at the palace and then sending a link to a fake log-in page for the Élysée intranet thanks to which they managed to harvest access credentials.

Once inside, the attackers installed malware which moved around inside the network looking for the information it wanted – infecting the machines of several senior presidential advisors including Sarkozy’s secretary general, Xavier Musca. The president himself escaped as he didn’t have a networked PC, L’Express said.

The report fingers the US because of the relative sophistication of the attack – it apparently took the French information security agency (Anssi) several days to clean and restore the network, and servers on five continents were used to hide the attack's origin.

In addition, much of the code recovered bears a striking resemblance to that of the infamous information-stealing Flame Trojan, which is thought to be a US-Israeli project designed to target Iranian computer systems.

US Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano told L’Express that Flame and Stuxnet had “never been linked to the US government” and when asked specifically about the Élysée attack, added the following, rather unconvincing response:

"We have no greater partner than France, we have no greater ally than France. We cooperate in many security-related areas. I am here to further reinforce those ties and create new ones."

As to why the US may have been looking to infiltrate the networks of one of its allies, the report speculates that Sarkozy was instrumental in signing a number of key deals with Middle Eastern companies during his tenure.

"You can be on good terms with a ‘friendly country’ and still wish to ensure its continued support, especially in a period of political transition,” an unnamed official told the paper.

If true, the revelations will be more than a little embarrassing for the Obama administration, especially as it seeks to maintain the moral high ground over China in such matters.

US lawmakers and military leaders have stepped up the rhetoric against China’s state-sponsored cyber-espionage efforts over the past year or so, culminating in a recent House of Representatives report branding tech firms Huawei and ZTE a national security risk to the US.

Although most security experts acknowledge that cyber espionage goes on all the time, even between nominal allies, to make the mistake of being caught doing it is another matter.

The French are not completely blameless in this either, according to former home secretary David Blunkett.

He revealed last year that during the early 2000s, when he and then-opposite number Nicolas Sarkozy were negotiating over the future of the Sangatte refugee camp, the soon-to-be president admitted that his team had been able to read unencrypted emails between the Home Office and the British Embassy in Paris. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
Carders punch holes through Staples
Investigation launched into East Coast stores
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
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.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.