BBC Panorama investigates News of the World computer hacking

Last night, BBC One broadcast an investigation by the Panorama team into alleged computer hacking done on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper.

The progamme – called “Tabloid Hacks Exposed” – identified a former British army intelligence officer who had served in Northern Ireland, Ian Hurst, as the target of the computer hack.

Hurst was thought to have contributed to a book about “Stakeknife”, the codename for an alleged spy who infiltrated the higher echelons of the Provisional IRA while secretly working for British Intelligence.

Tabloid Hacks Exposed: BBC Panorama report

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

According to the Panorama report, copies of emails sent from Hurst’s computer were stolen by a Trojan horse installed by a hacker. Footage secretly filmed by the BBC, shows Hurst meeting the man who he believes broke into his PC, who confesses his involvement:

“It weren’t that hard. I sent you an email that you opened, and that’s it … I sent it from a bogus address … Now it’s gone. It shouldn’t even remain on the hard drive … I think I programmed it to stay on for three months.”

According to the unnamed hacker’s confession, faxed copies of the stolen information were then sent to the then editor of the News of the World for Ireland, Alex Marunchak.

When a BBC film crew confronted Marunchak with the allegation that he knowingly hired people to break the law in order to uncover information for news stories, he declined to answer questions.

It’s important to recognise that there is no accusation that the journalists themselves hacked into any computers – but rather that they might have hired third parties who did various forms of hacking in order to gather information.

Up until this latest BBC Panorama investigation, the focus has been on the alleged hacking of mobile phones, rather than the interception of computer email communications.

Graham Cluley on Panorama

Readers in the UK can currently watch the BBC Panorama report online via BBC iPlayer.

Sophos makes a brief appearance in the programme, discussing the legality (it’s not) of installing Trojan horses onto other people’s computers without their permission. Blink and you’ll miss me pontificating.

Remember, installing a virus or Trojan horse onto someone else’s computer without their authorisation is against the law – and can lead to a serious jail sentence.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.