High-profile hackings of 2015: Flashback

In Information Security ByTeam Acumin / 22nd October 2015

Flashback is the largest forum in Sweden. Thousands of people flock there to discuss everything from politics to baking, knowing that they can be afforded complete freedom of speech and will not be shot down or blocked for expressing views that could be considered as well out of the mainstream.

What happened?

In May 2015, sensitive internal data about members of the Flashback forum was published in the Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet. The paper claimed that the breached data was sold to them via Researchgruppen (Research Group), which is well known for exposing the details of previously anonymous users – particularly those who could be considered to be trolls.

How many records were accessed?

The private details of around 40,000 members of the Flashback forum were accessed. Data released included home addresses, email addresses and even the social security numbers of members.

Why it happened?

Research Group is a left-wing group, made up of freelance journalists who have made it their mission to expose the details of people who they consider to be ‘trolls’ with opinions that could best be described as extremely right wing. They spend time trawling forums like Flashback, looking for users who would fit their profile of a troll, and then they use a range of hacking methods to find details about those individuals.

Once they have these details, they add them to a database and publish it by different means, including in tabloid newspapers and in various places online.

What’s happened since?

The breach has highlighted to a lot of forum users that they are never completely safe when using the internet. Researchgruppen continues to use extremely questionable methods to acquire the private details of Swedish citizens whose views they do not agree with, or who they suspect of wrongdoing.