New police investigation will probe computer hacking

Scotland Yard is to expand its inquiries into illegal news-gathering techniques at News International by launching a full-scale investigation into computer hacking, The Independent understands.

In the latest twist in the long-running phone-hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police is assembling a new squad of detectives to look into claims that the News of the World stole secrets from the computer hard drives of public figures, journalists and intelligence officers.

Since March, officers have been carrying out Operation Tuleta, a scoping exercise into the covert use of "Trojan horse" computer viruses – which allow hackers to take control of third-party computers – following allegations made in a BBC Panorama programme.

Now, following complaints from public figures who believe they were targeted by the private investigator Jonathan Rees, who worked for the NOTW and other newspapers, the Met is to scale up its inquiries. So far only two full-scale investigations, Operation Weeting into alleged phone hacking by the NOTW private investigator Glen Mulcaire, and Operation Elveden into the NOTW's alleged bribery of police officers. Operation Tuleta is being staffed by detectives from the Specialist Crime Directorate.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "Since January 2011 the MPS has received a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy which fall outside the remit of Operation Weeting, including computer hacking. Some aspects of this operation will move forward to a formal investigation. There will be a new team reporting DAC Sue Akers. The formation of that team is yet to take place."

A Scotland Yard source told The Independent: "This started as an exercise to investigate the very serious allegations made by Panorama and enough evidence of criminality exists for there to be a successful prosecution. We understand that the hacking of computers by the NOTW covers a much wider period than the three months initially alleged by the BBC programme."

The new investigation threatens to drag other newspaper groups into the scandal. In March, Panorama alleged that, in 2006, Alex Marunchak, then the editor of the Irish edition of the NOTW, hired a private investigator to hack into the computer of a former British Army intelligence officer, Ian Hurst. It was alleged that emails and documents from Mr Hurst's hard drive were hacked, along with correspondence between him and a number of people including IRA agents. Among those whose emails were allegedly stolen is Greg Harkin, a former journalist on The Independent.

According to the BBC, the Sunday tabloid was trying to find out if Mr Hurst or Mr Harkin knew the whereabouts of Freddie Scappaticci, the man alleged to have been "Stakeknife", the British Army's most important undercover agent in the IRA. In 2003, newspapers were speculating about the identity of Stakeknife and several claimed he was Mr Scappaticci, who became the IRA's No 1 assassination target and was placed under a secret protection scheme.

A year later, Mr Hurst and Mr Harkin wrote a book about Stakeknife with more information about his alleged identity and activities within the IRA. Because of concern about the safety of Mr Scappaticci – who has always denied being the spy – a High Court injunction prohibited the publication of details of his appearance and whereabouts.

Any computer hacking by the NOTW could have broken the injunction and, potentially, endangered the safety of Mr Scappaticci and his British handlers. Mr Marunchak has denied any involvement in computer hacking.

Under the terms of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, computer hacking is a more serious crime than phone hacking. "Unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences" can carry heavy fines and a jail sentence of up to five years.

A spokesman for News International declined to comment.

How it is done

A "Trojan horse" is a virus that infiltrates a computer and allows the attacker to remove the entire contents of hard drives, steal passwords and read emails.

It most commonly masquerades as valuable and useful software available for download on the internet or through an email link. The attacker often disguises it in an email pretending to be from someone the victim knows.

Once the computer is infected, the attacker has complete control and can turn it on or off remotely from anywhere in the world.

It will scour the owner's hard drive for any personal and financial information before sending it back to a thief's database.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen