A clever phishing scheme launched last week may have stolen more than 3 million euros worth of carbon emission permits from companies.
At least seven companies with carbon emission permits registered with the German Emissions Trading Authority saw some 250,000 certificates moved out of their accounts, according to a spokesman with Germany's Federal Environment Agency.
The certificates allow companies to emit pollution within certain limits and are meant as incentives for companies to invest in cleaner technologies. As of Thursday, certificates traded for around 2.50 euros each, putting the losses at around 3.2 million euros (£2.8 million).
The attack is believed to be the first ever targeting the emissions-trading program, administered in part by the United Nations.
"We have the impression that they acted very professionally as regards to IT procedures, and of course they had to know how emissions trading works," said Julie Steinen, spokeswoman for German Emissions Trading Authority, the country's registry for carbon emissioin certificates.
Last week, companies whose certificates are tracked by German Emissions Trading Authority receiving e-mails saying they needed to register again due to security problems. The e-mail contained a link to a fraudulent Web site, Steinen said. Other national registries were also targeted.
Once the fraudsters obtained the companies' account details, they quickly moved the certificates to accounts tracked by other national registries and presumably sold them, Steinen said.
Different national registries track the movement of certificates, but the financial transactions are separate from the registry system, she said. Certificates can be sold on the open market.
Once electronic certificates are moved to another registry, it's more difficult to track them, although the certificates do carry a unique code. Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office and prosecutors in Berlin are investigating, Steinen said.
The German Emissions Trading Authority halted certificate trading last Friday to ensure no other companies were victimized, and other national registries also temporarily closed. Germany's registry, which advised its 2,000 companies to change their passwords, is going to resume allowing transactions today, she said.
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