The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has quit the social media platform Facebook. Her decision comes on the back of a massive hacking attempt in the country in which private information of hundreds of German lawmakers was compromised.
Logging out of Facebook
“Today is the day on which I would like to thank you for all your support of my Facebook page… You know that I am no longer CDU president, so I will now close my Facebook page,” Merkel said in a video on her Facebook page (Reuters).
She thanked her 2.5 million followers for their support and asked them to keep tracking her through the German government’s official Facebook page or Instagram profile. Merkel has been the Chancellor of Europe since 2005 and has maintained her country’s position as one of Europe’s strongest economies during the period.
However, a series of election setbacks in 2018 forced Merkel to think of exiting politics. She stepped down as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) last year and will reportedly not be participating in politics once her current term as Chancellor is completed. Some speculate that she might take up a senior role in the United Nations or other similar organization.
Thousands of people commented on her farewell video, with some sharply criticizing her for allowing a flood of refugees into Germany starting 2015 that has created widespread ethnic tensions. The event has come to define Merkel’s post as the Chancellor and may well be what she is remembered for in the future.
Hacking German politicians
Germany still continues to reel in the aftereffects of the hacking scandal from December 2018 when hundreds of German politicians, including Merkel, had their private details compromised. The information leaked includes email addresses, chat transcripts, mobile numbers, and so on.
Torsten Schweiger, a lawmaker for Merkel’s CDU party, had the photos of his ID card and diplomatic passport leaked online. This prompted the 50-year-old to store less private data online. Robert Habeck, the co-chairman of Germany’s Green Party, had private chats with his family members published online. He has quit Facebook and Twitter.
“The perpetrators want to erode trust in our democracy and in our institutions… Criminals and their backers must not be allowed to dictate debate in our nation,” German Justice Minister Katarina Barley said in a statement (Bloomberg).
An investigation into the hack led to the arrest of a 20-year-old from Central Hesse who admitted to having committed the crime on his own. The perpetrator had already destroyed the computer by the time law enforcement nabbed him. Currently, no foreign involvement is suspected by the team.
“To his motivation, the defendant stated that he acted out of annoyance over public statements made by the politicians, journalists, and public figures concerned,” Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) said in a statement (The Local).
Germany had suffered a similar hacking attempt in 2015 when criminals stole gigabytes of data related to the country’s lawmakers. Russia was said to be behind the attack by Germany’s spy agency. However, the Russians denied the accusations.
With the crucial European parliament election coming in May, the hacking scandal has made German officials ramp up their cybersecurity. Intelligence agencies are apparently desperate to plug all vulnerabilities in the data networks to avoid a similar hacking attempt from individuals and foreign powers.
“If it was so easy to break into accounts that a 20-year-old could do it in the bedroom of his parents’ home, others can do it too… Professional hackers have even more methods to steal passwords, and way more resources,” Holger Muench, Head of Germany’s BKA federal criminal police, said in a statement (Euro News).
The interior ministry has proposed several measures to improve Internet security of the country, including setup of early warning systems through a dedicated team that would monitor and prevent the hacking attacks. Hundreds of extra cyber experts may also be hired for the BSI federal cybersecurity agency and the local police forces.
Another topic the interior ministry seeks to address is imparting proper cybersecurity education to politicians. Most of the German lawmakers continue to use simple passwords to access their emails and other online accounts. Training will be given to politicians on the use of secure passwords.