Police in Australia are seeking help from the FBI and Britain’s Scotland Yard after tens of thousands of Australians received death threats by text message, warning them that they will be killed unless they pay thousands of dollars, according to reports Monday.
The Australian newspaper reported that the text message included the following line: "Sum1 paid me to kill you. get spared, 48hrs to pay [AU] $5000. If you inform the police or anybody, death is promised...E-mail me now: killerking247yahoo.com."
The Morning Herald quoted New South Wales Chief Superintendent Peter Cotter saying that state police would look abroad for help.
"We have direct connections with many international law enforcement agencies," Cotter told the newspaper.
"There'll be people we'll be speaking to, such as the FBI and London Metropolitan Police and so forth," he told the paper.
"Across Australia at this point in time we've been flooded and inundated by disturbing emails and text messages claiming that you're about to be killed if you don't part with the sum of (Australian) $5,000 … to be transferred into the hands of criminals. Please understand that this is a scam -- a very ugly attempt by fraudsters overseas to get your money. There is no immediate threat to you or your family," Hay said in a video message to the public posted on the website for The Age newspaper.
"I've probably got about $30 million worth of lottery text messages in my phone at the moment. So, usually when I get a message from an unknown number I don't take it too seriously," he was quoted as saying.
People in at least five Australian states -- New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania -- have reported receiving the texts on their cellphones, The Australian newspaper said.
A general view of New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police Britain's for-most and largest police service, Feb., 3, 2012. Hackers have intercepted a conference call between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Scotland Yard it has emerged.
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.
Police detain opposition supporters demonstrating in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo, on Saturday.
By NBC News and wire service reports
Violence over disputed Congolese election results rippled through the nation’s capital of Kinshasa on Saturday as well as in London, where 143 protesters were arrested.
Congo police prowled opposition neighborhoods Saturday rounding up young men, who were seen being dragged out of their homes and shoved into waiting cars, a day after the government announced that the country's opposition leader had lost the disputed presidential election.
Gwenn Dubourthoumieu / AFP - Getty Images
A girl cries Saturday after police arrested her brothers on suspicion they were protesting in the streets and throwing stones at the police in Kinshasa, Congo.
Public transport was suspended in this sprawling capital. Tires continued to burn in sections of the city that had voted for opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, and bus owners ordered their fleets off the streets, fearing vandalism.
Hotels downtown sent notices to their patrons saying there would be no room service because employees could not get to work.
London protesters arrested In London, Scotland Yard told NBC News that 143 people were arrested in during a demonstration over Congo election results.
Demonstrators who had agreed to hold a protest at a Whitehall location moved and blocked the area, triggering 33 arrests, Scotland Yard said in a statement.
Demonstrators moved into the Trafalgar Square area, where a group moved away from the main protest and began to damage property, including cars and shops, and threatened members of the public. Police said 110 people were taken into custody.
Opposition leader urges calm The protest came after 78-year-old Tshisekedi took to the airwaves overnight Friday to say he rejected the results issued by the country's election commission, which handed victory to President Joseph Kabila. He proclaimed himself president, saying the election had been manipulated to ensure a victory for Kabila, who finished with nearly 49 percent of the vote.
Observers fear unrest in Kanshasa if the opposition leader orders his supporters to take to the streets. So far, Tshisekedi has called for calm, telling his supporters to await his instructions. That didn't stop angry crowds from setting tires on fire and erecting roadblocks in areas of the city that had overwhelmingly voted against Kabila.
On Saturday, an unmarked police car was slowly advancing along Avenue des Cocotiers, when it abruptly stopped in front of house No. 48. The officers carrying automatic weapons shoved their way through the home's metal gate. They emerged dragging out a young man. His mother stood helplessly by.
The scene, which took place in front of a team of reporters, was repeated a block later. Human Rights Watch senior researcher Anneke van Woudenberg said she is receiving calls from residents in numerous neighborhoods in the capital reporting abductions by the police, though she said it was too early to confirm how many people had been taken.