Threat Management

Email of White House staffer hacked, purported scan of First Lady’s passport leaked

The White House has announced a cyber-security breach, as a purported photocopy of Michelle Obama's passport appears online.

The passport scan includes her photo and information page, which lists the First Lady's passport number, place of birth and birthdate.

The White House suspect, a low-level staffer on Hillary Clinton's campaign, had their email account hacked, with the leaked emails spanning from February 2015 to July 2016.

According to Reuters, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest has made no comment on the validity of the scans, but said the presidential residence was taking the hack very seriously.

Earnest explained: "At this point I cannot announce any sort of conclusion that's been reached about the individual or individuals that may have been responsible for the cyber-breach that resulted in this information being leaked."

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said at a press conference, "We're aware of those media reports, and it is something we're looking into."

According to Reuters, the leak is the latest by the group named DC Leaks which is reportedly linked to Russia.

They have been targeting politicians and other political figures, and prior to this attack published personal emails of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who confirmed the emails were authentic.

DC Leaks has said the aim is to expose the truth "about US decision-making process" and the elements of American political life.

Reuters confirmed: “Cyber-security experts and US intelligence officials have said the DC Leaks group, which says it is operating in the name of anti-secrecy, is a front for a wide-ranging hacking operation by the Russian government that also has breached Democratic party organisations and at least two state election systems.”

Putting the leak into perspective, Leo Taddeo, chief security officer at Cryptzone told "The compromise of a screenshot of the First Lady's passport is not as bad as it sounds.  First, Michelle Obama is one of the most recognisable women in the world, so it's hard to imagine someone using her passport to impersonate her for any reason. Second, the information in the passport is probably already well known, such as her date of birth. Lastly, the passport is likely an e-Passport, which contains an electronic chip that is almost impossible to duplicate. As such, a fraudster can't just cut and paste a high resolution copy of the image onto another passport.  With all the security features built in and around the First Lady, the passport compromise doesn't present a significant risk.  

Taddeo concluded: “However, for an ordinary person, this type of information leakage raises the chances of falling victim to identity theft. The information on the face of the document is sensitive and could be used to open credit lines or apply for other forms of identification.  Maintaining this type of information in emails is risky, and should be avoided. The most effective countermeasure is to use encryption to store and transmit sensitive emails whenever possible."

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