Turkish Hackers Target Istanbul Police

Jun 05, 2013 at 2:28 PM ET

If you’re trying to access the Turkish Prime Minister’s official website, chances are the page won’t load. On Wednesday morning, Red Hack, a loosely knit group of Turkish hackers rendered the site inaccessible, the latest in a spate of cyber attacks by the group, which has been supporting the ongoing demonstrations in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.

As the protests have roiled the once seemingly unflappable government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Red Hack has ramped up its efforts, allegedly hacking into the computer systems of various government agencies and the Istanbul Police Department, among other entities.

The group says it plans to release the contact info of the police officers working at the precinct near Gezi Park soon. And its next target is Kalyon Construction, a development firm that’s been commissioned to level the park and build a shopping mall and replica of an Ottoman era military barracks in its place. The hackers claim that they have gathered access to a hard drive on one of the company’s main computers, but have not released details of what’s on it.

Few details are known about Red Hack, but a representative of the group spoke to Vocativ in a secure chat room this week. “We can’t tell you who we are,” the hacker said. “Most of us actually don’t know the names of our members, let alone their sex.”

The group was first conceived by a small number of Turkish hackers operating in IRC chat rooms in the early 1990s. Since then, Red Hack has become more organized and expanded its roster of hackers by way of 4chan, a website where the infamous international hacking group Anonymous was formed.

Over time, the Red Hack representative said the group has developed a core philosophy that involves supporting the oppressed by disrupting their oppressors online, be it a government official or a private firm. The group’s broader goal is to install a socialist government in Turkey. “At least a regime where socialist parties freely express themselves,” the hacker explained, “But the ultimate goal is a socialist democracy.”

Red Hack is closely in touch with Anonymous and the groups cooperate on various hacking projects. Earlier this year, they worked together to attack Israeli government websites after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan for the 2009 confrontation with a Turkish flotilla headed for Gaza, which left nine Turkish activists dead. (The hackers believe Netanyahu wasn’t sufficiently contrite).

In 2012, when the Turkish police detained nine people, including a 15-year-old high school student, alleging they were affiliated with Red Hack, Anonymous helped their Turkish friends temporarily shut down the Internet across the country. After serving nine months in jail, the police released the accused hackers due to lack of evidence.

Red Hack’s primary targets are domestic. A few days before the Gezi Park protests began, the group leaked the personal emails of Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs. Red Hack posted documents from Bagis’s Yahoo account, which allegedly revealed that he distributed gift cards to journalists as New Year’s presents — a form of bribery, the group claims. Bagis’s lawyers issued a court order to shut the site down, but the site remains up and running. The minister did not return requests for comment.

When the Gezi Park protests began, Red Hack also distributed a spreadsheet with contact details of every member of the Turkish Parliament, acquired through Bagis’s e-mail. “If you’re an elected parliamentarian and you claim that you represent the people, and if you choose to remain silent while people are being killed on the streets, then we leak your phone number and call for the protesters to reach out to you,” the hacker said.

The same spreadsheet not only included the contact information of members of Parliament, but also that of their spouses and assistants — a move that raised questions about the group’s respect for the privacy of non-government officials. The Red Hack representative said the group didn’t have time to sift through the emails to delete personal information, and added that its goal isn’t to meddle with anyone’s private life. “We got a hold of a cache of photos that revealed a party leader’s extramarital affairs,” the hacker said. “That kind of thing would have ended his political career. We reached out to him and told him that we deleted the files.”

The hackers closely follow the news and plan their attacks accordingly. After the police detained 24 university students who were protesting against Erdoğan’s 2012 appearance for a ceremony at the Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara, Red Hack leaked 60,000 documents purporting to show how Turkey’s Higher Education Council is mishandling funds, among other things.

One of the group’s main targets is the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Indeed, Red Hack is strongly against Turkey’s support for the Syrian rebels, and the group has leaked documents that allegedly show Al Qaeda’s involvement in a bombing on the Syrian border.

Another primary target: Melih Gökçek, the mayor of Ankara, who often spends hours in front of his computer, usually late at night, sending messages to his 500,000 Twitter followers  and often sues people who criticize him on social media. When Gökçek released the phone number of one of his critics, Red Hack retaliated by exposing the Mayor’s private phone number and leaked documents they claim  point to a bribery arrangement between Gökçek and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey. Gökçek did not return a call for comment.

The culmination of Red Hack’s efforts have led the government to brand them as terrorists, and there’s an ongoing law enforcement effort in Turkey to identify and arrest the group’s members. It may succeed, which is why most in Red Hack know that they’ll eventually have to face the consequences of their actions.

“We can’t runaway forever,” the hacker admits.