German politicians' data published online in massive breach

BERLIN (Reuters) - Personal data and documents from hundreds of German politicians and public figures including Chancellor Angela Merkel have been published online in what appears to be one of Germany’s most far-reaching data leaks.

A preliminary analysis showed the data had been obtained through “wrongful use of log-in information for cloud services, email accounts or social networks”, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement late on Friday.

He said there was no evidence that the computer systems of the German lower house of parliament or the government had been compromised, but provided no further details.

The ministry said it remained unclear if the breach, which triggered an emergency meeting of the BSI national cyber defence agency, was the result of a hack or a leak. Authorities were investigating all possibilities, including espionage, according to one government source.

The public broadcaster rbb, which broke the story, said the data, published on a Twitter account, included addresses, personal letters and copies of identity cards. It said the identity of the perpetrators and their motive were not known.

German media said a fax number and two email addresses used by Merkel had been published but the government said it appeared no sensitive material from her office had been released.

The hacked material included private chats by Greens leader Robert Habeck with family members and the identity cards of his children, a source familiar with the matter said.

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The BSI said all but one of the seven parties in the lower house had been affected. German media said that party was the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Last year, lawmakers said a powerful cyber attack had breached the foreign ministry’s computer network.

Security officials have blamed most previous breaches of data security on a Russian hacking group, while the Kremlin has consistently denied involvement in such incidents.

The BSI met to coordinate the response of intelligence and other federal agencies.

The Defence Ministry said the armed forces were not affected. The public broadcaster ARD - affiliated to rbb - said its journalists had as yet detected no incriminating content.

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The city-state of Hamburg was working with Irish data protection authorities to stop the data being spread via Twitter, but said the company had not been responsive.

It said the Twitter account used to spread the data had been deleted, but that it was still pressing for the deletion of links to data on other platforms.

Security officials have blamed most previous attacks on a Russian hacking group, APT28, that experts say has close ties to a Russian spy agency. Experts held the same group responsible for an attack ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Bild newspaper reported that German authorities had asked the U.S. spy agency NSA for assistance.

Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs and Andrea Shalal; writing by Paul Carrel and Joseph Nasr; Editing by Kevin Liffey