Italian police have arrested a middle-aged brother and sister for allegedly hacking into the e-mails of thousands of high-ranking Italian officials, including former prime ministers Matteo Renzi and Mario Monti, as well as senior cardinals in the Catholic church, and a host of other public figures.
According to multiple reports in Italian media, Giulio Occhionero, 45, and Francesca Maria Occhionero, 48, have been detained on suspicion of stealing state secrets and illegal hacking.
The pair are accused of hacking into “tens of thousands of e-mail accounts,” Roberto Di Legami, the head of the police cybercrime unit investigating the allegations, told Reuters. Their targets, it’s alleged, included politicians, bankers, businessmen, and “several cardinals in the Vatican.” The stolen data was apparently held on servers in Minnesota and Utah, which have now been seized by the FBI and will be sent to Italian investigators.
According to the arrest warrant, Giulio Occhionero, a nuclear engineer and co-owner of an investment firm called Westlands Securities, has strong links to freemasonry, a group still shrouded in secrecy in Italy. It’s alleged that he wrote a Trojan Horse program which infected his targets’ e-mail accounts, which he dubbed “EyePyramid”—an apparent reference to the Eye of Providence symbol associated with the masons that also appears on the American one-dollar bill. He used the information gathered from the hacks, it is claimed, to make investment decisions.
According to prosecutors, the head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi was allegedly one of the siblings’ major scalps when he was in his former job as governor of the Bank of Italy. His ECB e-mail account, however, is understood not to have been compromised. Matteo Renzi, who stepped down as Italy’s prime minister in December, meanwhile, had his personal Apple account hacked.
Giulio Occhionero is also accused of targeting the grand master of the country’s biggest masonic lodge. In all, Reuters reported that up to 18,000 accounts might have been hacked, with 2,000 passwords stolen via a keylogger he allegedly managed to inveigle onto some of his targets’ machines. Investigators first caught wind of the hacks in April last year, but evidence suggests that the malware program has been in operation since at least 2010.
Other targets of the Occhioneros’ campaign allegedly included “corporate law firms, accounting companies, finance police officials, economy ministry officials, Vatican offices, labour unions, and even credit recovery groups.”
A lawyer for Giulio Occhionero, who will appear before a judge on Wednesday, told the Financial Times that “his client denied any illegal activity and had servers in the US because he had business there.”
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