Feb. 3, 2012 at 9:31 AM ET
By msnbc.com staff and wire services
Updated at 10:54 a.m. (Pacific time) — Anonymous hackers have posted a YouTube video of a candid conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard in which investigators talk about hacking suspects, including a 15-year-old one UK-based law enforcement official called “a bit of an idiot” and a “pain in the butt.”
This sensitive conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard was recorded by the very people they were trying to catch, the hacking group known as Anonymous claimed Friday.
The group released a nearly 17-minute-long recording of what appears to be a Jan. 17 conference call devoted to tracking and prosecuting members of the loose-knit hacking group. (Hear it below.)
The FBI said the information "was intended for law enforcement officers only and was illegally obtained" but that no FBI systems were breached. It added that "a criminal investigation is under way to identify and hold accountable those responsible."
It's not entirely clear how the hackers got their hands on the recording, which appears to have been edited to bleep out the names of some of the suspects being discussed.
But there was enough on the call to clearly hear the investigators talk about a 15-year-old who they say goes by the handle of Tehwongz, who one official said was arrested just before Christmas. The UK-based investigator said the teen was currently under the subject of a local police investigation and that his hard drive was in custody. The teen, he said, had written a a statement explaining how he came to become a hacker and what he has done, including hacking into a gaming site with access to 32,000 users and their financial information.
British police say the intercepted phone call between cybercrime investigators from the FBI and Scotland Yard poses no immediate risk to operations.
London police confirmed in a statement Friday that one of its e-crimes specialist was on the intercepted conference call but said that "at this stage no operational risks" to the police service had been identified.
It said it was still assessing the breach and noted that the FBI was investigating.
The statement added that "we are not prepared to discuss (it) further."
Listen to the conference call for yourself in this video:
Anonymous also published an email purportedly sent by an FBI agent which gave details and a password for accessing the call.
"The FBI might be curious how we're able to continuously read their internal comms for some time now," the group gloated in a message posted to Twitter.
Amid the material published by Anonymous was an email purportedly sent by an FBI agent to international law enforcement agencies. It invites his foreign counterparts to join the call to "discuss the ongoing investigations related to Anonymous ... and other associated splinter groups" on Jan. 17 at 4 p.m.
The message — addressed to law enforcement officials in the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and France — contained a phone number and password for accessing the call.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation, told The Associated Press that authorities were looking at the possibility that the message was intercepted after a private email account of one of the invited participants was compromised.
Graham Cluley, an expert with data security company Sophos, said that knowing the time, telephone number and passcode for the call meant it was all too easy to spy on the investigators.
"Even my ironing lady could have rung in and silently listened to the call just like Anonymous did," Cluley said in an email, calling the fiasco "highly embarrassing for the cops."
Emails to the FBI agent and others coded in on the call were not immediately returned, but the discussion itself appears sensitive.
Those on the call talk about what legal strategy to pursue in the cases of Ryan Cleary and Jake Davis — two British suspects linked to Anonymous — and discuss details of the evidence gathered against other suspects.
Among the details the investigators disclosed are "indecent images" and an estimated six to eight weeks it would take to go over chat logs. The U.K. police official on the call said that prosecutors were secretly going to court to delay procedures in order to give FBI more time to do more work on a related case.
Karen Todner, a lawyer for Cleary, said that the recording could be "incredibly sensitive" and warned that such data breaches had the potential to derail the police's work.
"If they haven't secured their email it could potentially prejudice the investigation," she told The Associated Press.
The breach is likely to act as a wakeup call to law enforcement agencies globally, said Marcus Carey, who spent years securing communications for the NSA before joining security-risk assessment firm Rapid7.
"A law enforcement agency using unencrypted, unsecure communications is a major fumble," Carey said. "What if this event was talking about some terrorist plot to blow up something and 'they' were listening in? It could've been much worse if it was related to an al-Qaida plot or something ... So this is a lesson learned."
In Paris, a French police official who was briefed on the interception said that it could prompt international law enforcement bodies to be more circumspect about sharing information in conference calls. He spoke on condition that his name be withheld, saying he wasn't authorized to speak on the record.
Anonymous appears to have had a busy Friday. The group also claimed credit for defacing the Boston Police Department's website, saying it was retaliating for police brutality at against Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Anonymous, an amorphous collection of Internet enthusiasts, pranksters and activists, has increasingly focused its attention on law enforcement agencies in general and the FBI in particular.
The hackers' traditional targets include the Church of Scientology, the music industry, and financial companies such as Visa and MasterCard but has since expanded to include government, police, and military targets.
Dozens of suspected members and supporters have been arrested across the world.
Reporting also by Raphael Satter, Pete Yost in Washington, Cassandra Vinograd in London and Jamey Keaten in Paris (all of the Associated Press). Follow Raphael Satter on Twitter.