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U.S. accused of hacking French government

Elysée Palace

Did the U.S. government target former French president Nicolas Sarkozy with espionage via malware?

French magazine l’Express published a report Tuesday alleging that the United States hacked into computers belonging to several advisors of former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Anonymous French officials quoted in the article claimed the hacking was effected via Flame, malware allegedly designed by the United States and Israel to harvest information on Iran’s nuclear program.

Among the advisors, the magazine mentioned Sarkozy’s then-chief-of-staff, Xavier Musca. The spying took place in May, several days before the election in which Sarkozy lost to socialist Francois Hollande. Sarkozy apparently did not possess his own dedicated computer. The advisors were said to have been targeted via “spearfishing,” receiving Flame-infected links through their Facebook accounts.

According to the Washington Post, Kaspersky Labs, the Russian computer security firm, maintained the malware had “a full suite of espionage technologies, including the capability to turn computer microphones into listening devices and wirelessly siphon data from nearby smartphones.”

American officials denied spying on one of the U.S.’s close personal friends.

“We categorically deny the allegations by unnamed sources that the U.S. government participated in a cyberattack against the French government,” Mitchell Moss, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Paris told l’Express. “France is one of our strongest allies.

In an interview with l’Express, Janet Napolitano, the director of the Department of Homeland Security, denied that a link between Flame and the United States had ever been proven.

Update: Much of the French hacking community is skeptical of the claims by the French government that the United States hacked the computers of advisors to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Fabrice Epelboin, a Paris-based journalist and entrepreneur with close ties to French hackers told the Daily Dot, “I don’t have enough (information) to call the Flame/Elysee hacking story as BS, but it sure sounds like one, and my hacker friends all have the same feeling.”

Epelboin said when the first accounts of the Elysee Palace being hacked broke last year, the Chinese were blamed.

One of the members of the critical French tech group Reflets.info, with which Epelboin is involved, tweeted: “Cool Story Bro: Chinese hackers are now american”

“At the time, Republicans/Sarkozy were in charge,” he said, “and the bad guys where Chinese. The message was: the digital world is dangerous, and the iconic bad guy is a Chinese hacker working for the secret services. Now, the Democrat/Socialists are in power, and going after Google and Amazon, accused of killing the press and the content business, and not paying their taxes, so the bad guy is obviously American, now. Still, the rest of the story is the same: the digital world is dangerous.”

It is not just the timing and the politicking that make the accusations unlikely. The French state IT systems are such a mess that “basically…(they) can be penetrated by a college student.”

France, Epelboin said, is heading for a “very dark digital age” in France. “The US is clearly becoming this evil liberal, if not libertarian, figure that the current government wants to protect us from.”

Epelboin added, tongue-in-cheek, “If this goes on, you American guys should be ready to save our sorry asses in approximately five years. Normandy, D-Day, you know… Like usual :D.” For the sake of the Republic, let’s hope not.

Photo via Wikipedia

Curt Hopkins

Curt Hopkins

Curt Hopkins has over two decades of experience as a journalist, editorial strategist, and social media manager. His work has been published by Ars Technica, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. He is the also founding director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the first organization devoted to global free speech rights for bloggers