Alastair Grant, Associated Press
LONDON — They trade jokes, chuckle and talk shop about a hacker plot called "Project Mayhem."
But at the heart of the conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard was a strategy aimed at bringing down the hacking collective known as Anonymous, which has launched a series of embarrassing attacks across the Internet.
Unfortunately for the cyber sleuths, the hackers were listening, too — and now so is the rest of the world.
Anonymous published the roughly 15-minute-long recording of the call to the Internet early Wednesday, gloating in a Twitter message that "the FBI might be curious how we're able to continuously read their internal comms for some time now."
The FBI said the information "was intended for law enforcement officers only and was illegally obtained" but that no FBI systems were breached. It added that "a criminal investigation is under way to identify and hold accountable those responsible."
It's not entirely clear how the hackers got their hands on the recording, which appears to have been edited to bleep out the names of some of the suspects being discussed.
Amid the material published by Anonymous was an email purportedly sent by an FBI agent to international law enforcement agencies. It invites his foreign counterparts to join the call to "discuss the ongoing investigations related to Anonymous ... and other associated splinter groups" on Jan. 17 at 4 p.m.
The message — addressed to law enforcement officials in the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and France — contained a phone number and password for accessing the call.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation, told The Associated Press that authorities were looking at the possibility that the message was intercepted after a private email account of one of the invited participants was compromised.
Graham Cluley, an expert with data security company Sophos, said that knowing the time, telephone number and passcode for the call meant it was all too easy to spy on the investigators.
"Even my ironing lady could have rung in and silently listened to the call just like Anonymous did," Cluley said in an email, calling the fiasco "highly embarrassing for the cops."
Scotland Yard said that they had seen no immediate information that their operations had been compromised — but the discussions appear to be sensitive.
Amid jokes about a teenage hacking suspect and light-hearted banter about McDonalds, the investigators seem to discuss whether to delay the arrest of two hacking suspects in order to give the FBI more time to pursue its side of the investigation.
Updates are given on the status of inquiries stretching from Los Angeles to Baltimore to England's West Midlands and Ireland, with one member of Scotland Yard's central e-crime unit telling the FBI that British police had recently arrested a 15-year-old they might be interested in with relation to a recent breach at U.S. videogame company Valve Corp.
"Yeah that's fantastic," an FBI official says in response. "We actually do have a pending investigation looking into that compromise."
An email to the FBI official leading the call was not immediately returned, while the e-Crime investigator referred questions to Scotland Yard's press office. The press office confirmed that it had someone on the call but said it would be making no further comment.
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