On Thursday, French police arrested a man who allegedly hacked into celebrity Twitter accounts in the United States. Among his victims was President Barack Obama.
French authorities described the hacker as a 24-year-old Frenchman. Rather than revealing his true identity, police are publicly calling him "Hacker Croll," a pseudonym the hacker used during his criminal activities. However, the Associated Press has identified him as Francois Cousteix.
"He was a young man spending time on the Internet," French prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat told London's Telegraph newspaper. "He acted as a result of a bet, out of the arrogance of the hacker. He is the type who likes to claim responsibility for what he has done."
Easy as 1, 2, 3?
Cousteix allegedly accessed Obama's Twitter page, as well as the Twitter pages of famous people like Britney Spears and Lily Allen, by guessing passwords, according to French police.
Whether Cousteix obtained any sensitive information from the president's micro-blog was not disclosed. However, news reports put Cousteix on the scene of the crime of dozens of Facebook and Twitter account hacks. Cousteix could spend up to two years in prison on each count of hacking if convicted.
"For a long time, when people got caught for doing this stuff, they got some kind of lucrative security job," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "Nowadays companies realize that providing incentives to people who are hacking this stuff wasn't a wise thing to do."
Although French authorities took the lead on the investigation, they reportedly relied on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to monitor Cousteix's online activities. The FBI also reportedly took part in the arrest of the hacker.
No System is Invulnerable
Cousteix has admitted to hacking. "I'm a nice hacker ... It's a message I wanted to get out to Internet users, to show them that no system is invulnerable," Cousteix told France 3 television on Thursday. He had been released from police questioning on Wednesday.
Cousteix also leaked some internal Twitter documents to web sites, including TechCrunch in July. At that time, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone said he thought the hacker was able to access an employee's Google Apps account, which contained Docs, Calendars and other Google apps Twitter relies on for sharing notes, spreadsheets, ideas, financial details, and more within the company.
Stone also stressed that the stolen documents downloaded and offered to various blogs and publications were not Twitter user accounts, nor were any user accounts compromised, except a screenshot of one person's account. In that case, Twitter contacted the user and recommended a password change.
"We'll wee what happens, but I have a feeling that hacking into the U.S. president's Twitter account is not something that's going to result in a pat on the head and a lucrative job," Enderle said. "But the hacker is right. It does show that these social networks are fairly vulnerable. Then again, they are also pretty public. The value of stealing somebody's Twitter account is relatively low unless you use that to run a scam."