Did US spies hack French government computers using Facebook?

The Palais de l'Élysée
A sophisticated computer virus discovered at the center of the French government’s secure computer network was planted there by the United States, according to unnamed sources inside France’s intelligence community. Paris-based magazine L’Express, France’s version of Time magazine, says in its current issue that the alleged American cyberattack took place shortly before last April’s Presidential elections in France. It resulted in the infection of the entire computer system in the Palais de l’Élysée, which is the official residence of the President of France. The French magazine cites unnamed sources inside the French Network and Information Security Agency (ANSSI), which is responsible for cybersecurity throughout France. The sources claim that the snooping virus allowed its handlers to gain access to the computers of most senior French Presidential aides and advisers during the final weeks of the administration of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, including his Chief of Staff, Xavier Musca. The article claims that the virus used a source code nearly identical to that of Flame, a super-sophisticated version of Stuxnet, the virus unleashed a few years ago against the computer infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear energy program. Many cybersecurity analysts believe that the US and Israel were instrumental in designing both Stuxnet and Flame. IntelNews understands that the alleged virus was initially directed at employees of the Palais de l’Élysée through Facebook. The targets were allegedly befriended by fake Facebook profile accounts handled by the team that operated the virus. The targets were then sent phishing emails that contained links to phony copies of the login page for the Palais de l’Élysée intranet website. Though that bogus website the hackers acquired username and password data of several Palais de l’Élysée staffers, which they subsequently used to gain access to the Presidential Palace’s computer system. Assuming that the virus planted on the Palais de l’Élysée intranet was similar to Flame in method and scope, it can be inferred that its handlers were able to spy on conversations taking place at the Palais using the infected computers’ audiovisual peripherals, as well as log keystrokes and acquire screen shots at regular intervals. The collected data was then routed through a host of different servers on five continents before reaching the hackers. L’Express says that then-President Sarkozy’s computer was not compromised by the virus because it was not connected to the Palais de l’Élysée computer network. The magazine sought the response of Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security, who refused to confirm or deny the allegations of American involvement in the alleged hacking. She sent the magazine a written statement, which said simply: “we have no greater partner than France, we have no greater ally than France”.


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