BT `unclear' over hacker claim

Extremist group says it has acquired confidential data. Tim Kelsey repo rts
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The Independent Online
British Telecom admitted last night that it did not know whether its computer database had been compromised after claims by an extremist Scottish group that it had hacked into the system. The break-in is the second major breach of BT security in six months. The Independent reported last year how a part time employee was able to access sensitive numbers and addresses for intelligence sites and Ministry of Defence locations without detection.

The Scottish National Liberation Army claimed in a telephone call to the Press Association on Sunday that it had obtained extensive access to the British Telecom computer database and had acquired a "vast share of confidential material" including ex-directory home numbers of Ian Lang, the Scottish Secretary and other senior political figures. It gave Mr Lang's number as proof that it had accessed the computer. It said the number had been used to deliver a death threat.

Last year, a man was imprisoned for 12 years after being accused of orchestrating a hoax bombing campaign for the SNLA which wants a separate government for Scotland.

Andrew McIntosh planted elaborate hoax bombs outside four oil industry offices in Aberdeen and letter-bombs in postboxes in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee.

Explosives experts told the court that the devices were so detailed they thought they were real. One described them as the best hoax bombs seen in Britain. Police found a collection of weapons along with anti-English and "Free Scotland" posters and literature in McIntosh's flat.

The trial judge, Lord Morison, said: "These activities have caused very serious disruption in Scotland and very serious alarm."

After the trial, the SNLA issued a statement saying that its "violent struggle" would continue.

Since then, the SNLA has not been heard of. But its possible possession of sensitive telephone numbers and billing addresses has aroused concern. A BT spokesman said: "It is not clear how the SNLA got hold of the information. We don't know that they havein fact broken into our computers. We are, however, giving all necessary help to the police and the Scottish Office. There is still the possibility that they acquired the numbers from another source."

The spokesman said there was no evidence that the system had been "hacked" from the outside - but admitted that BT had no proof either way.

BT admitted after the Independent's reports that the security of its computer systems was inadequate and promised a review of procedure.

This latest apparent breach of security will further fuel concern.