Hacker accesses Bush family emails, photos, report says

Smoking Gun publishes several personal photos of Bush family found by a self-proclaimed hacker

A hacker using the online handle 'Guccifer' claims to have gained access to email accounts belonging to family members and friends of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and exposed personal emails, photos and other sensitive data, The Smoking Gun reported Thursday.

The hacks are said to have exposed email messages and photos related to the recent hospitalization of George H.W. Bush. It also contained a confidential list of home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for what was described as dozens of family members and friends of the former presidents, the report said.

A U.S. Secret Service spokesman told the Reuters news agency that an investigation onto the incident has been launched.

The Secret Service spokesman could not be immediately reached for further comment by Computerworld.

The Smoking Gun posted several of the hacked photographs, including one that shows the senior Bush in a hospital bed, another with him and former President Bill Clinton at the Bush family home in Maine and one of George W. Bush posing next to a cardboard cut-out of his face.

Also published were photos said to be accessed from the computer of Dorothy Bush Koch of paintings that her brother George W. Bush was working on.

Two of the published images were self-portraits of the former president in the shower and in the bathtub. Another shows him painting what apparently is a portrait of a historic chapel in Maine.

The hacked emails were sent between 2009 and 2012 and those accessed by The Smoking Gun were said to include details of social events, golf outings, and in one case the access code for a security gate leading to the Bush family residence.

Several of the emails accessed from Dorothy Bush's computers included information on the health status of her father, George H.W. Bush, during his hospitalization late last year, the report said.

One of the emails reportedly contained details suggesting that the 41st President had been so perilously close to death one time that his funeral team had to hold an emergency meeting to discuss details. "The Bush aide, Jean Becker, noted that this information 'fell under the broadening category of things NOT TO TELL YOUR MOTHER'," The Smoking Gun report said.

It's unclear why the hacker might have chosen to access the Bush family personal email. In correspondence with the Smoking Gun, the apparent hacker doesn't offer any motives.

Hacking attacks on famous people and celebrities are not rare.

Last December, Christopher Chaney , a hacker from Jacksonville, Fla. was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after admitting to hacking into email accounts belonging to many celebrities, including Mika Kunis, Scarlett Johansson and Renee Olstead.

Chaney collected numerous private photographs, business contracts, letters, scripts, driver's license information and Social Security Numbers from the accounts he hacked. Some of the photos, including nude pictures of Johansson were sent to and published by celebrity gossip websites.

In 2008, Tennessee college student David Kernell accessed an email account belonging to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and took screen shots of the contents of several Palin emails and posted them online. At the time, Palin was the GOP's vice presidential nominee.

Kernell was convicted on hacking charges and sentenced to a year in prison.

Last year, a hacker broke into a personal email account linked to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Similar attacks were reporting during the run up to 2008 presidential elections as well.

In such attacks, hackers generally access celebrity accounts by correctly guessing password reset questions. Chaney for instance used publicly available information on the celebrities to correctly answer the security questions needed to reset the passwords to Gmail, Apple and Yahoo email accounts.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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