Hackers target Peruvian government ministers, other Latin countries could be in the cross-hairs

Sep 24, 2014

Just as hackers from the Internet forum 4Chan were reportedly using a major vulnerability in Apple's iCloud system to leak private nude photos of celebrities, a distantly related hacking group in Latin America have been using their skills to shake up politics in Peru in a major way.

LulzSecPeru, according to a recent exposé by The Associated Press, has been gaining access to confidential emails of Peruvian government ministers and dumping them online — leading to revelations about the government's relationship with lobbyists.

Other Latin American countries, including Ecuador and Colombia, are worried and are scrambling to correct vulnerabilities in government websites and email systems.

According to the AP, the hacktivist group is comprised of two young men, who associate themselves with the original U.S. and U.K. LulzSec — an offshoot of the 4Chan-originated "Anonymous," which has been known for semi-political cyber attacks on high profile targets including the Church of Scientology, financial transaction companies who cut connections with WikiLeaks and other targets like U.S. government websites.

But while LulzSec has generally been quieter in recent years after prominent members were arrested, co-opted into government work, or found otherwise fruitful work for their talents, the "hacktivism" in Latin America continues like it's the early 2000s.

None of LulzSecPeru's exploits caused as much of a stir as when they got a hold of a trove of emails belonging to the Peruvian Council of Ministers and dumped them online last month, purportedly with a message to peers and journalists, "Happy Hunting!"

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The email dump included an estimated 3,500 emails from Peru's erstwhile Prime Minister Rene Cornejo — some of which exposed unseemly insider influence by Peruvian Fishing and Oil industry lobbyists, leading to a political uproar that has been termed by the press "CornejoLeaks." One group of emails, for example, showed the energy minister arguing that oil industry technicians and not regulators should be making the decisions whether or not environmental impact studies are necessary when exploring for oil.

The political turmoil resulted in a no-confidence vote last week, which, according to AP, Peru's Cabinet only survived by a small margin.

LulzSecPeru has been deemed "cyber-pirates" by the Peruvian authorities and threatened the hacktivists with up to eight years in prison under a new computer crime law, but the hackers — at least for now — seem to be several steps in front of the law.

For example, the younger hacker of the LulzSecPeru duo, who goes by the name Cyber-Rat, said he is 17 years old and will quit before he turns 18 to avoid the possibility of harsher adult prison terms. The other hacker, "Desh," is said to be in his late teens to early 20s.

But both hackers, self-taught from elementary-school age, have made it a point to avoid targeting U.S. government sites, so as to not attract the attention of the FBI, which has been largely responsible for dismantling the U.S. LulzSec organization in the past few years.

As far as local authorities go, the Peruvian hacker duo seems to have the upper hand, for now at least. The AP reports that one of the first major hacking coups by LulzSecPeru was to penetrate the country's cyberpolice network in 2012, and they claim to still have backdoor access to that network.

And the team is sophisticated enough — and Latin American governments' cybersecurity generally slapdash enough — that the duo has successfully breached military, police and government networks in Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia and neighboring Venezuela throughout their hacktivist career.

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