Private investigators linked to the City of London are using an India-based computer hacking gang to target British businesses, government officials and journalists.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Sunday Times have been given access to the gang’s database, which reveals the extraordinary scale of the attacks.
It shows the criminals targeted the private email accounts of more than 100 victims on behalf of investigators working for autocratic states, British lawyers and their wealthy clients.
Critics of Qatar who threatened to expose wrongdoing by the Gulf state in the run-up to this month’s World Cup were among those hacked.
It is the first time the inner workings of a major “hack-for-hire” gang have been leaked to the media and it reveals multiple criminal conspiracies. Some of the hackers’ clients are private investigators used by major law firms with bases in the City of London.
Our investigation – based on the leaked documents and undercover work in India – can reveal:
- Orders went out to the gang to target the BBC’s political editor Chris Mason in May, three weeks after his appointment was announced.
- The president of Switzerland and his deputy were targeted just days after he met Boris Johnson and Liz Truss in Downing Street to discuss Russian sanctions.
- Philip Hammond, then chancellor, was hacked as he was dealing with the fallout of Russia’s novichok poisonings in Salisbury.
- A private investigator hired by a London law firm acting for the Russian state ordered the gang to target a British-based oligarch fleeing Vladimir Putin.
- Michel Platini, the former head of European football, was hacked shortly before he was due to talk to French police about corruption allegations relating to the 2022 World Cup.
- The hackers broke into the email inboxes of Formula One motor racing bosses Ruth Buscombe, the British head of race strategy at the Alfa Romeo team, and Otmar Szafnauer, who was chief executive of the Aston Martin team.
- The gang seized control of computers owned by Pakistan’s politicians, generals and diplomats and eavesdropped on their private conversations, apparently at the behest of the Indian secret services.
The commissioning of hacking is a criminal offence punishable with a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail in Britain. The Metropolitan Police was tipped off about the allegations regarding Qatar in October last year yet chose not to take any action.
David Davis, the former cabinet minister, said the force should reopen its investigation into potential criminal cyberattacks against British citizens.
Davis said the investigation exposed how London has become “the global centre of hacking”. He added: “It paints a grim picture of a network of criminal hacking that threatens justice and privacy here in the UK and across the world.”