A 20-year-old German student has reportedly confessed to leaking the private data of around 1,000 politicians, journalists, and entertainers because he was “angry with the public statements” of his targets. German cybercrime office prosecutor Georg Ungefuk told reporters that police arrested the unnamed suspect and searched his apartment on Sunday. The man reportedly confessed during an interrogation, saying that he was not politically motivated and had acted alone. He has since been released under house arrest.
The leaked data was posted throughout the month of December, but authorities reportedly only learned of it last week. It affected roughly 1,000 people, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a variety of rappers and journalists, and members of every political party in parliament except for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). According to The Wall Street Journal, most of the leaked information was contact details and other relatively non-sensitive data. Around 50 to 60 people had more intimate details revealed, including bank account statements, photos, and chat records.
The Guardian offers some more detail about the suspect, who Ungefuk says had no formal qualifications but possessed “extensive knowledge of computers” as well as “considerable interest and a lot of time.” Investigators reportedly arrested him after tracing “digital tracks” and contacting people he’d communicated with, and he cooperated with police by offering some kind of assistance on other cases, according to Bloomberg. They didn’t describe exactly how the suspect found the leaked information, beyond suggesting that “really simple” passwords had made his job easy.
The leak fit the pattern of earlier, politically motivated attacks on several countries, including Germany. Those have been linked to Russian state-sponsored hackers. But Ungefuk says that “there is no evidence of a third party’s involvement.” It’s still not clear why he spared one far-right political party when releasing information, although the Journal wrote that investigators “found no material” immediately suggesting a political motivation.
“The accused said the motivation for his actions was irritation at public statements by the affected politicians, journalists and public figures,” said a statement from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, as quoted by Bloomberg. The consequences, however, could be wide-reaching since this attack exacerbated existing fears about data security and prompted conversations about tougher privacy rules. “We are examining whether tightening the laws would make sense or be necessary,” says Katarina Barley, Germany’s justice minister, in response to the leak.