Suspected Twitter infiltrator: 'I'm a nice hacker'

March 25, 2010 By ANGELA DOLAND , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- He's unemployed and isn't much of a computer expert. The Frenchman accused of infiltrating Twitter and peeping at the accounts of President Barack Obama and singers Britney Spears and Lily Allen says he wanted to reveal just how vulnerable online data systems are to break-ins - and he says he didn't mean any harm.

"I'm a nice ," suspect Francois Cousteix told France 3 television Thursday, a day after he was released from police questioning, adding that his goal was to warn Internet users about .

"Hacker Croll," as he was known online, is accused of breaking into administrators' accounts and copying - as well as peeping at Obama's and the singers' accounts, though he didn't have access to sensitive information about them, a French prosecutor said.

FBI agents sat in on the sessions while French police questioned the young man for two days, said Jean-Yves Coquillat, prosecutor in Clermont-Ferrand, where the suspect will be tried in June for hacking.

If convicted on the charge of breaking into a data system, he risks up to two years in prison and a euro30,000 ($40,068) fine. The suspect lives near Clermont-Ferrand in central France.

"He says it's the challenge, the game, that made him do it," Coquillat said. Officials say preliminary investigations suggest Hacker Croll did not tweet in other peoples' names or try to make money out of his information.

"He had access to elements that were so confidential that he could very well have profited from them" through blackmail, for example, said Adeline Champagnat of the French police office on information technology crimes.

She compared the hacker's actions to "a burglar breaking into the headquarters of a big company, able to look at the files of the all employees and clients, with their passwords and confidential information."

"In a way, he succeeded in taking control of Twitter," Champagnat said.

At one point, she said, the hacker attempted to find a password for Obama's account but didn't follow through with it. With administrator access, "he didn't even need" Obama's password, she said - but hacking into the president's account wasn't his goal.

Cousteix, who was identified as being 23 or 24, said he just wanted to prove a point about Internet security.

"It's a message I wanted to get out to Internet users, to show them that no system is invulnerable," he told France 3 television.

Hacker Croll confessed to the hacking under questioning, and analysis of his computer backs up his statements, police and the prosecutor said.

The suspect, who lives with his parents and has no college degree, didn't have any special computer training, the prosecutor said.

His technique was to get administrators' e-mail passwords' reset by correctly answering their security questions using information about his prey that he gathered from blogs and other public sites, officials said.

Twitter said in July that it was the victim of a security breach. Co-founder Biz Stone wrote at the time that the personal e-mail of an unnamed Twitter administrative employee was hacked, and through that the attacker got access to the employee's Google Apps account.

The French prosecutor said the suspect infiltrated the accounts of "several" Twitter administrative employees. He was able to access information such as contracts with partners and resumes from job applicants, Coquillat said.

Hacker Croll e-mailed some of the documents to TechCrunch, a widely read technology blog, and it subsequently published some of them, including financial projections. The material was also published on several French sites.

Some of the material was more embarrassing than damaging, like floor plans for new office space and a pitch for a Twitter TV show.

Using the administrator logins, Hacker Croll looked at Twitter details of Obama, Allen, Spears and other well-known personalities and was able to see information such as IP addresses, when they were last connected and when they signed up, French officials said.

Explore further: French police arrest alleged Twitter hacker


Related Stories

French police arrest alleged Twitter hacker

March 24, 2010

(AP) -- French police say they have detained a 25-year-old who allegedly hacked Twitter accounts of numerous well-known figures, including Britney Spears and President Barack Obama.

Some Twitter staff accounts reportedly hacked

July 15, 2009

A hacker believed to have struck celebrity Twitter accounts previously has reportedly broken into accounts of the microblogging service's workers including co-founder Evan Williams.

Spears, DeGeneres Twitpic accounts hacked

June 29, 2009

(AP) -- Hackers have broadcast bogus information about celebrities including Britney Spears and Ellen DeGeneres after breaking into their Twitpic accounts.

Concerns raised as LA looks to Google Web services

July 17, 2009

(AP) -- Security and privacy concerns have been raised over a multimillion-dollar proposal by Los Angeles to tap Google Inc.'s Internet-based services for government e-mail, police records and other confidential data.

Recommended for you

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

November 17, 2017

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With ...

Optically tunable microwave antennas for 5G applications

November 16, 2017

Multiband tunable antennas are a critical part of many communication and radar systems. New research by engineers at the University of Bristol has shown significant advances in antennas by using optically induced plasmas ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
I would have preferred if this article had used cracker instead of hacker.
Anyway, it once more proves that the weakest link in a system is still human.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.