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'Anonymous' hackers target U.S. security think tank

LONDON — The loose-knit hacking movement "Anonymous" claimed Sunday to have stolen 4,000 credit card numbers and other personal information belonging to clients of U.S.-based security think tank Stratfor. One hacker said the goal was to pilfer funds from individuals' accounts to give away as Christmas donations, and some victims confirmed unauthorized transactions linked to their credit cards.

Anonymous boasted of stealing Stratfor's confidential client list, which includes entities ranging from Apple Inc. to the U.S. Air Force to the Miami Police Department, and mining it for the credit card numbers, passwords and home addresses.

Stratfor, which is based in Austin, Texas, provides political, economic and military analysis to help clients reduce risk, according to a description on its YouTube page. It charges subscribers for its reports and analysis, delivered through the Web, emails and videos. The company's main website was down, with a banner saying the "site is currently undergoing maintenance."

Proprietary information about the companies and government agencies that subscribe to Stratfor's newsletters did not appear to be at any significant risk, however, with the main threat posed to individual employees who had subscribed.

"Not so private and secret anymore?" Anonymous taunted in a message on Twitter, promising that the attack on Stratfor was just the beginning of a Christmas-inspired assault on a long list of targets.

Anonymous said the list it had posted was a small slice of the 200 gigabytes worth of plunder it stole from Stratfor and promised more leaks. It said it was able to get the credit card details in part because Stratfor didn't bother encrypting them — an easy-to-avoid blunder which, if true, would be a major embarrassment for any security-related company.

Fred Burton, Stratfor's vice president of intelligence, said the company had reported the intrusion to law enforcement and was working with them. Stratfor has protections in place meant to prevent such attacks, he said.

"But I think the hackers live in this kind of world where once they fixate on you or try to attack you it's extraordinarily difficult to defend against," Burton said.

Hours after publishing what it claimed was Stratfor's client list, Anonymous tweeted a link to encrypted files online with names, phone numbers, emails, addresses and credit card account details.

"Not as many as you expected? Worry not, fellow pirates and robin hoods. These are just the 'A's," read a message posted online that encouraged readers to download a file of the hacked information.

The attack is "just another in a massive string of breaches we've seen this year and in years past," said Josh Shaul, chief technology officer of Application Security Inc., a New York-based provider of database security software.

Still, companies that shared secret information with Stratfor to obtain threat assessments might worry that the information is among the 200 gigabytes of data that Anonymous claims to have stolen, he said.

"If an attacker is walking away with that much email, there might be some very juicy bits of information that they have," Shaul said.

Lt. Col. John Dorrian, public affairs officer for the Air Force, said that "for obvious reasons" the Air Force doesn't discuss specific vulnerabilities, threats or responses to them.

Miami Police Department spokesman Sgt. Freddie Cruz Jr. said that he could not confirm that the agency was a client of Stratfor, and he said he had not received any information about a security breach involving the department.

Anonymous also linked to images online that it suggested were receipts for charitable donations made by the group manipulating the credit card data it stole. One receipt — to the American Red Cross — had Allen Barr's name on it.

Barr, of Austin, recently retired from the Texas Department of Banking and said he discovered on Friday that a total of $700 had been spent from his account. Barr, who has spent more than a decade dealing with cybercrime at banks, said five transactions were made in total.

"It was all charities, the Red Cross, CARE, Save the Children. So when the credit card company called my wife she wasn't sure whether I was just donating," said Barr, who wasn't aware until a reporter with the Associated Press called that his information had been compromised when Stratfor's computers were hacked.

"It made me feel terrible. It made my wife feel terrible. We had to close the account."

Wishing everyone a "Merry LulzXMas" — a nod to its spinoff hacking group Lulz Security — Anonymous also posted a link on Twitter to a site containing the email, phone number and credit number of a U.S. Homeland Security employee.

The employee, Cody Sultenfuss, said he had no warning before his details were posted.

"They took money I did not have," he told the AP in a series of emails, which did not specify the amount taken.

But the breach doesn't necessarily pose a risk to owners of the credit cards. A card user who suspects fraudulent activity can contact the credit card company to dispute the charge.

'Anonymous' hackers target U.S. security think tank 12/25/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 25, 2011 8:38pm]

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