German social networks hacker commits suicide while in jail

Logo VZ Netzwerke[Germany] You could say StudiVZ, the German Facebook clone has a few problems on its hands, and some unwelcome publicity.

Back in August Facebook officially became Germany’s biggest social network, increasing reach by more than 50% from March to July 2009 taking it to 6.2 million unique users in Germany. By contrast StudiVZ had 4.28 million uniques (though it continues to claim 6 million registered members). Even it’s spinoff aimed at post-university adults, MeinVZ, is ailing.

Then StudiVZ became the subject of some high profile hacks which showed up its lax attitude to security.

In particular was that by a 20 year old man who used crawler software to harvest detailed user information from all of the “VZ” sites (owned by VZ-Netzwerke), copying 48,000 profiles in just four hours. Clearly he was talented at something I guess. He even made a YouTube video of it.

However, he wasn’t so great at the blackmail thing. Bizarrely he asked for just €80,000 and threatened to sell the information to gangs in Eastern Europe. The plan didn’t come off however. He turned up to the VZ offices to collect the cash, where the Police (doh!) were waiting.

But today the story just took a tragic, and perhaps sinister, turn.

It’s being reported today that the suspected hacker has committed suicide in jail. He was found dead in his prison cell in the juvenile detention centre Plötzensee. Berlin’s justice administrator didn’t give more details and said only that the detainee hadn’t shown any indications of wanting to commit suicide.

StudiVZ has now switched off the comments in their post about the incident on their company blog to avoid any damning speculation.

However anonymous commentors at other places [in German] say that the company has “blood on its hands”.

Not a great quarter, then.