The European Parliament has disabled its public Wi-Fi network following the detection of a suspected hacking attack which has been linked to the exposure of weak security practices at the institution by a French media outlet.
The private network of the European institution is thought to be secure but techies are advising users to avoid the public network following a possible man-in-the-middle attack that has allowed a (white-hat) hacker to capture an number of email passwords. Users are advised to change their passwords, as appropriate, and make sure they install digital certificates in their smartphones and computers that permit them to connect to the secure network.
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An advisory from techies (extract below) was circulated to Members of the European Parliament and staff on Monday. The notice (copied onto the mailing list of the European Parliament's Free Software User Group) suggested the suspension would only be temporary without saying how long it might apply.
The Parliament has been subject to a man-in-the-middle attack, where a hacker has captured the communication between private smartphones and the public Wi-Fi of the Parliament (EP-EXT Network).
The consequence is that some individual mail-boxes have been compromised. All concerned users have already been contacted and asked to change their password.
As a precaution, the Parliament has therefore decided to switch off the public Wi-Fi network until further notice, and we invite you to contact the ITEC Service Desk in order to install an EP software certificate on all the devices that you use to access the EP IT systems (email, etc...). This certificate will allow you to connect in an automated and secured way to the EP Private Wi-Fi network.
A staffer at the EU Parliament confirmed to El Reg that the "shutdown of the public Wi-Fi since at least yesterday morning, which remains disabled today." He added: "The email mentioned was sent to all MEPs, assistants, political group employees and staff of the European Parliament."
The alert follows reports last week that the EU Parliament was investigating the reported vulnerability of MEPs’ personal email accounts. An ethical hacker hired by French investigative journal Mediapart was able to hack "personal and confidential emails of 14 randomly selected MEPs, parliamentary assistants and employees," EurActiv reported at the time.
We understand that IT staff in the EU Parliament are working on the theory that the hacker set up a rogue Wi-Fi network that mimicked the EU Parliament's real system, a theory explained in greater depth in a post on the EPFSUG list.
The French hacking exercise was aimed only at raising awareness about the issue of vulnerability to eavesdropping of EU Parliament staff and politicians, rather than to either cause mischief or personally embarrass Eurocrats. The nature of their work means MEPs are in the firing line of cyber-espionage from strains of malware such as Red October and other other hacking tactics. ®