Hackers who broke into a German government network gained access by burying hidden coded instructions into emails which they sent to staffers’ Microsoft Outlook inboxes, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Tuesday.
According to security sources cited by the newspaper, hackers first infected a series of target computers with a form of malware, or malicious software.
The programs, which lay dormant on the computers, were then activated via an email with an attachment that Outlook opened automatically. Inside the attachment there was a hidden line of code that activated the malware, which could then transfer data in and out of the network.
A total of 17 computers were infected in the Foreign Office. According to a separate report by Spiegel, hackers first penetrated the government network in the town of Brühl, south of Cologne. They were then able to gain access to the the German Federal Administration Information Network (IVBB), exploring until they reached their goal, which was Department 2 of the Foreign Office, responsible for German foreign policy within the EU, with North America and with Russia.
Germany has been slow to point fingers after the hacking was revealed, with no culprits yet identified. Microsoft had no immediate comment when contacted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Investigators suspect that an “elite group” of Russian hackers was behind the breach, Spiegel reported.