“Do you want to talk about cheese?” is the conversation opener in a trans-Atlantic phone call intercepted by hacker collective Anonymous between the FBI and the UK’s Metropolitan Police (aka Scotland Yard).
Once the issue of cheese had been dealt with, the participants in the conversation moved on to more pressing matters—such as how to deal with Anonymous. Of course, they had no idea the group was recording their conversation. And once it was over, the hackers uploaded the call to the Web.
Though part of the conversation centered on trivial matters, such as the merits of the British city of Sheffield (“it’s not exactly a jewel in England’s crown”), more important subjects were covered, such as the current situation with Ryan Cleary, a British man arrested last June for his alleged involvement with hacking group LulzSec. Another alleged hacker, whose name was bleeped out by Anonymous, was described by a British operative as “a pain in the bum.”
The FBI admitted that the call, which took place some time in January, was genuine and that it was now looking for those responsible for recording it and putting it online.
“The information was intended for law enforcement officers only and was illegally obtained,” an FBI spokesperson said. “A criminal investigation is under way to identify and hold accountable those responsible.”
It appears that Anonymous hackers gained knowledge of the call in advance after intercepting an email arranging the trans-Atlantic meeting.
Speaking to the AP, Marcus Carey, who once worked for the US National Security Agency securing communications, said, “A law enforcement agency using unencrypted, unsecure communications is a major fumble.”
Carey, who now works for security-risk assessment firm Rapid7, highlighted the potential dangers of the lax set-up. “What if this event was talking about some terrorist plot to blow up something and ‘they’ were listening in? It could’ve been much worse if it was related to an al-Qaida plot or something. So this is a lesson learned,” he said.
The 17-minute call talked about hacking-related cases on both sides of the Atlantic, including a discussion on whether to delay the arrest of several suspects so the FBI could pursue its investigation further.
Anonymous is considered to be a loose collective of hackers and Web activists, and has been responsible for a number of high profile attacks on companies, law enforcement agencies and governments.
This latest incident will have resulted in a few red faces at the FBI and Scotland Yard, and will doubtless result in a full-scale review of how such calls are made in the future.