Real-Case Analysis #12: Security Breach at Europol

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May 15, 2024
3 min

Real-Case Analysis #12: Security Breach at Europol

The security breach at Europol highlighted serious flaws in one of the EU's most important law enforcement institutions. This incident not only jeopardized sensitive data, but also raised major issues about the efficacy of current security systems. The event has sparked a reevaluation of Europol's cybersecurity measures, with substantial consequences for data security at EU law enforcement organizations.


  • In May 2024, Europol, the European Union's law enforcement organization, experienced a major data breach that exposed highly sensitive and confidential information.
  • The threat actor behind the breach is known as "IntelBroker," a member of the notorious cybercrime group "CyberNi**ers."

Overview of the Security Breach at Europol

Europol experienced a security breach that resulted in unauthorized access to the Europol Platform for professionals (EPE), an online site used by law enforcement professionals to share expertise and non-personal crime data.

The breach was facilitated through the use of stolen credentials, not through a system vulnerability or misconfiguration. This indicates a security compromise involving possibly phishing attacks or credential theft, which allowed the attackers to gain unauthorized access to the EPE portal. The breach specifically targeted a closed user group within the EPE, limiting the extent of the data exposure.

Timeline of the attack:

  • May 10, 2024: The data breach occurred, exposing highly sensitive and classified data.
  • May 11, 2024: Europol confirmed the breach and stated that an investigation was underway. The EPE website was taken offline for maintenance following the breach.
  • May 13, 2024: Further details emerged as Europol continued to assess the situation and respond to the incident.

The breach was claimed by a threat actor known as IntelBroker, who is associated with the cybercrime group CyberNi**ers. IntelBroker has a history of targeting various government and corporate entities, including the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, and companies like Zscaler and General Electric. The motivations behind these attacks appear to be financial gain, as evidenced by the sale of stolen data on dark web forums, and possibly reputational damage or disruption.IntelBroker advertised the stolen Europol data for sale on the BreachForums hacking forum, demanding payment in the privacy-focused cryptocurrency Monero (XMR), which suggests a motive of monetizing the stolen data while maintaining anonymity.

Details of the Breach

IntelBroker claimed responsibility for the breach and offered the stolen data for sale on the dark web hacker site BreachForums.

The compromised data included:

  • Classified information marked "For Official Use Only" (FOUO)
  • Personal information of Europol alliance employees
  • Source code, PDFs, and reconnaissance documents
  • Operational guidelines and materials

Several key Europol platforms and divisions were impacted:

  • Europol Platform for Experts (EPE) - a closed user group for law enforcement experts
  • European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and its secure expert community EC3 SPACE
  • Partnership on Climate Change and Sustainable Energy (CCSE)
  • Law Enforcement Forum dealing with financial crimes
  • SIRIUS electronic evidence sharing platform for cross-border investigations

Europol confirmed the intrusion, stating that the EPE portal was compromised but no operational data was taken. However, the EPE website has been taken offline for maintenance. The agency stated that its key systems were unaffected. IntelBroker offered samples of the stolen material, including screenshots of the EPE interface, an EC3 database, and communications between law enforcement authorities about collecting data from platforms such as Telegram, to demonstrate the legality of the intrusion. The threat actor tried to auction off the stolen data on the dark web, seeking payment in the privacy-focused cryptocurrency Monero (XMR) and claiming the data had been sold to an anonymous purchaser.

Impact Analysis

  • Data Exposure: As a result of the breach, private material, including operational instructions, internal protocols, and the personal information of law enforcement officers, was made public. Following that, this material was put up for sale on dark web forums, greatly compromising the security and privacy of those who were involved.
  • Operational Disruption: The EPE platform was pulled offline for repair, which interfered with the routine exchange of information and cooperation between law enforcement agencies, regardless of Europol's declaration that no essential operational data had been stolen.
  • Reputational Damage: The breach has seriously damaged people's faith in Europol's ability to preserve sensitive data by bringing up questions about the agency's security protocols. This event contributes to Europol's reputational problems, which have been caused by a number of security mistakes.

Lessons Learned

Following the security breach at Europol, here are the lessons learned:

Importance of Securing Knowledge-Sharing Platforms

The attack primarily targeted the Europol Platform for Experts (EPE), a knowledge-sharing network used by law enforcement professionals. This highlights the importance of strong security procedures for platforms that, while not directly managing operational data, nevertheless include critical information. Ensuring the security of such platforms is critical to avoid unauthorized access and data leak.

Vulnerability of Non-Core Systems

Europol highlighted that no critical systems or operational data were compromised. However, the compromise of non-core systems such as EPE and the SIRIUS platform exposed sensitive material, including classified documents and the personal information of cybercrime experts. This emphasizes the significance of protecting all systems, not just those considered vital.

Need for Comprehensive Incident Response Plans

Europol responded by taking the EPE platform offline and starting an inquiry. This incident highlights the need for a thorough incident response strategy that can be immediately implemented to limit damage, determine the scope of the breach, and communicate transparently with stakeholders.

Improved Collaboration and Information Sharing

The incident highlights the necessity for increased collaboration between law enforcement and cybersecurity organizations. Sharing information about risks and vulnerabilities can help to develop more effective defence mechanisms against complex cyberthreats.

Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing

The breach shows that Europol's cybersecurity infrastructure may be vulnerable. Regular security audits and penetration testing can help detect and address these issues before they are exploitable by bad actors.


Here are the recommendations and actions Europol have implemented:

  • They have likely implemented improved security measures to protect its systems and data, although specific details on these measures were not disclosed in the sources.
  • They are working with other law enforcement agencies and partners to investigate the breach and mitigate its impact.
  • The agency is closely monitoring the situation and has taken initial actions to secure its platforms and data.