French hacker arrested, guessed Twitter passwords

In a joint US/ French operation, police have arrested the Frenchman responsible for hacking several high-profile Twitter accounts, including that of US President Barack Obama. The man, who is also accused of leaking Twitter documents to technology web sites last year, will have to appear in court in June.

Easy passwords mean easy access for hackers to private accounts on internet sites like Twitter
Easy passwords mean easy access for hackers to private accounts on internet sites like Twitter Reuters/Michael Caronna

French police and FBI agents arrested the Frenchman on the grounds of hacking into the Twitter, Facebook and Google mail accounts of at least 30 celebrities from the fields of politics and showbusiness - most of them US citizens.

In an interview with AFP on Thursday, 25year-old unemployed François (last name yet to be revealed) said he was not a "hacker" but a "harmless pirate" who wanted to "point out the system's failures".

"Any system is vulnerable," he said, adding that he "wasn't acting to damage the company. I wanted to warn."

“Hacker Croll”, as François was referred to during the long investigation, was also able to get access to internal documents of Twitter, including sensitive financial projections, police said.

He would then forward the documents to several technology web sites, among them Tech Crunch, who then published the information.

François had no particular technological expertise, said police, but would gain access to users’ passwords by making guesses based on information posted on their sites.

"He was a young man spending time on the internet. He acted as a result of a bet, out of the defiance of the hacker. He is the sort who likes to claim responsibility for what he has done," prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat said.

He had never attempted to profit financially from his hacking activities on Twitter, in which users can send out messages of 140 characters or less, police said.

The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told French authorities about his presence on French territory in July last year.

François was questioned in police custody in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand on Tuesday and has been told to appear in court there on 24 June. He was released after the questioning.

Hacking into a database is a crime in France, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app