Wednesday, February 10, 2010

‘Climategate’ hack was sophisticated, launched from U.S. Eastern Seaboard

Can’t vouch for the accuracy of this report, but it sounds plausible. Perhaps a reader with network security experience can comment.

Hacking into the mind of the CRU climate change hacker

Figuring out who was behind the hack of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia requires some digital forensic skills – and an insight into the mindset of those who were trying to get at CRU’s files at the time.

Analysis by the Guardian and digital forensics experts suggests that an outside hacker gained access to a server at the UEA which held backups of CRU emails and a collection of staff documents. It also suggests the access occurred over a period of days, if not weeks, and was carried out from a computer based on the east coast of north America.

The release of hacked emails and documents came just months after climate change sceptics had filed more than 50 freedom of information requests querying the CRU’s refusal to release of raw data and program code during the summer.

Egged on by a group of sceptical bloggers, the requests almost all began with the words “I hereby make a EIR/FoI request in respect to any confidentiality agreements restricting transmission of CRUTEM data to non-academics involing the following countries.” Others sought “a copy of any digital version of the CRUTEM station data set that has been sent from CRU to Peter Webster and/or any other person at Georgia Tech”. All were refused under FoI exemptions because of commercial confidentiality.

Into that silence came the release of the archived “zip” file by someone with clear hacking skills: first they grabbed the files, then they broke into the RealClimate blog to upload the archive and prepare a draft post; then, when that was thwarted, they uploaded it to a Russian website, and posted links to it on climate sceptics’ blogs using web servers located in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

That sequence of events led Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientist, to say that it must have been “carried out by a team of skilled professionals, either on behalf of a foreign government or at the behest of anti-climate change lobbyists in the United States”. But he quickly backed away from that statement, admitting he had no inside information.

The Guardian’s analysis shows that a small group of just four of the scientists from among the dozens employed at the CRU were targeted in the sifting of email. They are: Phil Jones, the head of the CRU; Professor Keith Briffa, who studied tree rings; Tim Osborn, who worked on climate modelling for modern and archaeological data; and Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. All are either recipients or senders of all but 66 of the 1,073 emails, and almost all the rest are sent from mailing lists, such as the Met Office’s “scenarios” listing, to which at least one of the four would certainly belong. …

Hacking into the mind of the CRU climate change hacker

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