Nigerian cyber criminals have hacked into Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s email account, sending missives to “a significant number” of his contacts including his constituents in Blackburn.
The emails claimed that Straw, who founded the National High-Tech Crime Unit in 2001 when he was Home Secretary, had lost his wallet in Nigeria while promoting a charity called ‘Empowering Youth to Fight Racism’. The emails requested that the concerned receiver wire $3000 to help the politician return home.
Straw described the demands as “obviously ridiculous”, although he added that “in a lot of cases [such scams] do get people to cough up.”
Spokesman for security firm Sophos, Graham Cluley, acknowledged that while it was “unlikely that anyone would really believe that Jack Straw was stranded in Nigeria with no method of returning to the UK, whoever broke into Straw’s account has had access to his address book and emails that he has sent and received in the past. That information could be very useful for identity thieves.”
Straw should consider himself lucky his account was hijacked by run-of-the-mill scammers with a none-too-convincing ploy. A more innovative cybercriminal, realising the address they now had access to, could have wreaked political havoc.
The Hotmail account was suspended by Microsoft after the incident was reported. US vice-president contender Sarah Palin also had her Hotmail account breached after her ‘secret question’ password reminder was guessed by a teenage hacker using her entry on Wikipedia.
Political and celebrity personalities are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, given the amount of readily information available on them. The vast amount of storage offered by many hosted email sites also makes them a goldmine for identity thieves.
By and large, the incident is not a good example to be setting for a senior figure in a government claiming to take identity theft seriously, let alone one developing a national ID system. None of Straw’s constituents are believed to have sent money to ‘rescue’ the technologically-unlucky Justice Secretary from Nigeria, however it is unknown how many sent it to keep him there.