Man admits hacking Twitter account of Irish MEP | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

A Belgian public prosecutor has sought a one-year prison term for a former European parliamentary assistant after he admitted hacking the Twitter account of Irish MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

Diarmuid Hayes, 34, from Dublin, was convicted in a Belgian court of posting a Tweet from Mr Flanagan’s account that referred to Irish Green Party candidate Saoirse McHugh “skinny dipping”.

It was posted from Mr Flanagan’s account in the early hours of 28 September, 2020 without his knowledge using a third party app called TweetDeck.

Mr Flanagan told the court that the hacking of his Twitter account had been a “cold, calculated and skillfully carried out attempt” to destroy him.

Hayes, who had worked as an assistant to Mr Flanagan in 2018 and 2019, said he had been upset with the MEP after he had failed to renew his contract following the European Parliament elections in 2019.

Hayes also said he had been smoking cannabis on the night he Tweeted the image from his former employer’s account.

He admitted to the court he had posted the image, but said it had been a “joke”, and that he regretted it very quickly, deleting the Tweet a short time later.

However, public prosecutor Thomas Deschamps said Hayes had knowingly thrown Mr Flanagan’s honour “to the dogs” in an odious act of revenge.

He accused Hayes of deliberately sending the Tweet in the early hours of the morning, and misspelling Ms McHugh’s name, so as to give the impression that Mr Flanagan had been drunkenly searching for images of her online to post on social media.

Addressing Judge Isabelle Jacquemin, Mr Flanagan said he and his family had been “put through hell” by the episode.

He said his wife and children had suffered abuse on the street because of the tweet, and that a photo-montage referring to the tweet had been circulated and was shown to his nine-year-old daughter outside her home.

His daughter’s friend had asked her: “What was your Daddy at?”

Mr Flanagan said his 19-year-old daughter, who is autistic, had become afraid to leave the house unless she was accompanied by her father.

“There were comments made by female politicians about how difficult it was for women to get involved in politics, and that it was made more difficult by this episode,” he told the court.

“But it was not because of what [Hayes] did, but about what they thought I did.”

The Independent MEP said he was forced to seek therapy after the tweet was widely covered in the Irish and UK media.

“The coverage it got was absolutely massive. The fact that I’m innocent will not get as much coverage. I’ll pay the price for this forever.”

Hayes earlier told the court that he had been upset that his contract was not renewed, although this was challenged by Mr Flanagan who said he had offered him – against the advice of his staff – a further one-year contract.

Hayes said he had moved his family from Dublin to Brussels to work in the European Parliament, and now he was unemployed.

He said he had got on well with the rest of Mr Flanagan’s staff and said he still counted some among them as friends.

He said his relationship with Mr Flanagan had been both difficult and close.

Hayes, a communications graduate from Dublin City University (DCU), said he ran Mr Flanagan’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, and that he had access to all their passwords.

However, this was disputed by Mr Flanagan, who said he only gave him the password to TweetDeck in 2018 while he was at the National Ploughing Championships for three days.

He added that the passwords had been changed after Hayes’ employment ended.

Mr Flanagan rejected Hayes’ courtroom apology, saying that if he had been truly sorry he would have admitted hacking the account immediately and that the MEP was not responsible.

‘Cold, calculated attempt to destroy me.”

“Sorry doesn’t add up,” he told the court. “This was a cold, calculated and skillfully carried out attempt to destroy me.”

He said that he was proud to represent Ireland as an MEP in Brussels. However, he added: “I don’t feel safe if this individual is still in this city. It makes it difficult knowing he’s at large when I’m here with my children.”

Mr Deschamps, the public prosecutor, poured scorn on Hayes’s defence that it was either accidental or a joke.

He said he was a communications graduate and would have known the impact such a Tweet, even if deleted immediately, would have had.

He said Hayes had wanted to humiliate Mr Flanagan in an act of revenge.

The case has been put back to 25 March for sentencing.

The public prosecutor has sought a one-year prison term, although he said he would not object if the term was suspended.

Counsel for Hayes, Charlotte Henderickx asked Judge Jacquemin to consider community service, which would not carry with it a criminal record.

‘My name has been cleared’

Outside the Palais de Justice in Brussels, Mr Flanagan said: “The good news for me is it’s now quite clear who did this and my name has been cleared, and I can get on with what is a far more important job.

“My daughters have got abused on the streets over this, it’s made some of them reluctant to leave the house at times.

“My wife is a social care worker and has been called out on social media. It’s been said, we feel sorry for your wife because of what I have done. That’s just not easy, because I live in a small town.”

The MEP said when he woke up that morning and checked his Twitter account he said it “really messed with my head”.

“I was like going, ‘Have I gone crazy? How did this happen?’ And then my second thought was any politician who claims that they’ve been hacked, has never ever been believed. In fact, they’ve just been ridiculed.”

He said he called one of his assistants and said that he had been “destroyed”, and that he would never be able to prove that it was not him who had posted the image.

“I have to say it was difficult. I suffer from depression. I don’t need bad news to make me feel down.”


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