Indian ‘hack-for-hire’ gangs target UK firms and politicians

Hackers based in India have targeted British businesses, government officials and journalists at the behest of private investigators linked to the City of London, an investigation has revealed.

The Sunday Times and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) uncovered hacking on an “extraordinary scale” as cybercriminals based in the Indian city of Gurugram accessed private email accounts of “more than 100 victims”.

Private investigators “working for autocratic states, British lawyers and their wealthy clients” were directing the hackers. Some investigators worked for “major law firms” based in the City, according to the joint investigation. 

Those targeted include prominent journalists and politicians according to a database used by the hacking gang and seen by The Times and TBIJ.

Hackers were told to go after the BBC’s political editor Chris Mason, just “three weeks after his appointment was announced”. Another in their sights was Jonathan Calvert, editor of The Sunday Times Insight team, who exposed “the corruption that led Fifa to award the World Cup to Qatar in 2010”, said the investigation. Other critics of Qatar in the run-up to the World Cup were also targeted. 

In the UK, the commissioning of hacking is a criminal offence that can lead to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. But while the Metropolitan Police was “tipped off about the allegations regarding Qatar in October last year”, The Sunday Times reported that the force “chose not to take any action”. 

Further victims include former chancellor Philip Hammond, who was targeted “as he was dealing with the fallout of Russia’s novichok poisonings in Salisbury”, as was the former head of European football Michel Platini, who was hacked before he was due to speak to police over World Cup 2022 corruption allegations. The hacking gang also “seized control” of devices owned by Pakistani politicians, generals and diplomats to eavesdrop on private conversations on behalf of the Indian secret service.

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The report comes just a week after the head of the UK intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, warned that so-called “hackers for hire” are a growing security threat, said the Financial Times. “We’re… seeing a change in those who can carry out cyber attacks,” he said. “This shift leads us to expect that commercial availability of cyber capabilities will increase the future threat to the cyber security of the UK.” 


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