Phishing attacks are similar to online banking scams, in which users are sent emails asking them to enter their details on a facsimile of a website.
Hans-Jurgen Nantke, the head of the German emissions trading authority, said that users had been warned and new passwords set. But he added it would be impossible to track the European emissions trading scheme permits as they would have been traded soon after they left the companies’ accounts and changed hands several times since.
He said: “It’s not a problem of carbon trading, it’s a problem of the internet. The phishing attacks on banks has now spread to carbon trading. The phishers have already earned their money so we can’t do anything about the permits. The problem now is to find the culprits and that’s police a matter.”
Nantke stressed that the German carbon register DEHSt was safe, adding that it has 2,000 companies and only seven were affected. But European carbon trading authorities have not yet confirmed how many companies were affected across Europe.
Europe’s main mechanism for reducing emissions from industry has been targeted by criminals before. Last year so-called “carousel fraud” criminals were found to be cashing in on permits bought in countries without paying VAT by selling them on with VAT, and then disappearing without handing the VAT to the tax authorities. Three British men were arrested last month in Belgium and accused of failing to pay VAT worth €3m (£2.7m) on carbon credit transactions.
Barbara Helfferich, environment spokeswoman at the European Commission, said that an investigation had been launched into the phishing attack, but admitted the website had not yet been shut down or the culprits found.
Helfferich said that preventing future attacks was a priority, particularly because of the new European carbon registry scheduled to begin trading in 2012 which will include permits from the aviation industry. “We’ll have to look at whether we need to improve security for this registry,” she said.
Carbon trading around the world, beyond the European Union’s emission trading scheme, is done via an international transaction log run by the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) under the Kyoto agreement.
The UNFCCC said in a statement on its website: “The secretariat of the UNFCCC has been informed by some national registries operated by parties to the Kyoto protocol that last week, a series of phishing attacks had stolen passwords from some users of these registries.
“The UNFCCC secretariat is collaborating closely with the remaining national registries to ensure that access to their systems is secured. Meanwhile, these registries have been disconnected from the international transaction log (ITL), which is under the control of the secretariat.
“The ITL validates and records all transactions of Kyoto protocol units. It has not been subject to interference and remains fully secure and operational.”