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a polluting power plant
CO2 emissions trading is in the focus of fraudstersImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Hack attack

February 3, 2010

Computer hackers have launched a massive phishing attack on the German Emissions Trading Authority. Reports in Germany claim the hackers reaped millions of euros in fraudulent emissions trading certificates.


The European trade in CO2 emissions permits has been brought to a virtual standstill after computer hackers cracked security codes to gain access to company accounts last week.

The Financial Times Deutschland reported on Wednesday that the hackers launched a so-called "phishing attack" in which they asked companies involved in the emissions trading scheme to re-register with the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt).

Companies which did so, the newspaper wrote, suffered huge losses as the hackers stole and then sold their carbon permits on the European emissions market.

Carbon expo with traders
Carbon trading has become big international businessImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

Under the emissions trading scheme, also known as cap and trade, companies are required to buy permits in order to emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Companies that need to increase their emission allowance must buy credits from those who pollute less.

Phishing for profit

According to the Financial Times Deutschland, the fraudsters sent e-mails to companies in several European countries, as well as in Japan and New Zealand.

They used the official DEHSt logo, and urged the companies in the mails to register again as a hacker attack was allegedly imminent.

The hackers were thus able to gain access to company accounts and transferred their emission certificates to accounts registered in Denmark and Great Britain.

From there they sold the CO2 emission permits on the free market for a thus far undisclosed sum of money.

One medium-sized company in Germany, for instance, reportedly lost permits worth 1.5 million euros ($2.1million).

A spokesperson for DEHSt described the attack as “highly professional,” and said that the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA) was investigating the incident.

"Access to the German database to register emission deals would be barred for at least the rest of this week," the DEHSt spokesperson added.

CO2 trade prone to fraud

In August last year, the emissions trading scheme was already in the focus of German tax investigators after it was revealed that fraudulent deals cheated the state out of hundreds of millions of euros in taxes.

a coal pump
Companies investing in eco-friendly technologies profit from CO2 tradeImage: AP

The fraud was based on carousel transactions in which dealers took advantage of the fact that trade within the EU are exempt from sales taxes.

Under the 2005 Kyoto Climate Protocol, a global trade in carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions is to be established as a way to reduce harmful emissions.

Current prices for CO2 certificates are set on exchanges, such as the ECX in London or the EEX in the German town of Leipzig.

According to the Norwegian market watchdog, Point Carbon, more than 8 million tons of CO2 emissions worth 94 billion euros were traded in Europe last year.

Editor: Rob Turner

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