GCHQ Hacked G20 Politicians’ Machines In 2009 – Report

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

GCHQ hacked dignitaries’ phones and computers, including BlackBerry devices,

Politicians who attended the G20 talks in London in 2009 had their computers and mobile phones hacked by UK intelligence workers, according to leaked documents.

It was claimed GCHQ successfully hacked email and used keyloggers to get hold of more data, setting up Internet cafes to carry out the surveillance. Dignitaries attending the G20 meetings of the world’s top 20 nations, were tricked into going to the cafes, according to leaks from NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, reported in the Guardian.

Documents suggested senior government officials close to the then prime minister Gordon Brown signed off the operation.

Shutterstock - © Petar Paunchev - surveillancePoliticians hacked

The operation may also have loaded malware onto targets’ devices for continued surveillance: a leaked document says the Internet cafe operations would allow “sustained intelligence options against them even after [the] conference has finished”.

Intelligence analysts were also doing real-time tracking of comms data, to see who was phoning whom. It appeared the motivation was to learn about foreign delegates’ plans for the conference. Turkish finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, and his cohort were targeted, the report said.

The NSA also snooped during 2009’s G20 meeting in London, according to another document seen by the Guardian. The NSA Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s communications, using its base at RAF Menwith Hill in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, to carry out the interception, apparently. The communications were later shared with officials from the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Allegations of hacking at the G20 summit comes at an awkward time for GCHQ, as the UK is hosting a summit for the more exclusive G8 group, comprised of the world’s top eight nations. The G8 summit kicks off today in Northern Ireland.

These tales of G20 spying follow revelations of mass surveillance by the NSA, which has shared some of its data from GCHQ.

Are you a pedant on privacy? Try our quiz!