A rogue group of malicious hackers penetrated the database of U.S. think tank Stratfor over the Christmas holiday weekend and stole thousands of credit card files. Those credit cards were then subsequently used to make online payments to a variety of charitable organizations. Modern day digital Robin Hood? Think again.
The hack was perpetrated by a groups of malicious hackers loosely affiliated with anti-security group Anonymous. It is hard to tell what hackers are actually part of Anonymous these days as with each successive scheme, one group will claim it is working under the Anonymous banner while another will disavow the action. At this point, Stratfor does not really care what the hackers call themselves.
Stratfor, short for Strategic Forecasting, is a company that caters to the U.S. intelligence community. Hence, it is loosely tied to the U.S. government, making it a target of Anonymous-like hackers. The company tracks global open data to come up with a daily briefing that it sells to its clients. The client list was confidential until the hackers published it on Dec. 24, 2011.
The hackers claim that the credit card data in Stratfor’s database was unencrypted. It is then ripe for the picking. Even though most Anonymous hacks are not designed for outright theft, this wing of the group used the credit card information and started making payments to charities such as the American Red Cross, CARE, Save The Children and Africa Child Foundation. Approximately 17,000 cards were compromised in the hack (though not all had payments to charitable organizations).
While this might seem noble and altruistic, especially the day before Christmas, security blog F-Secure.com points out that the charities involved will have to refund the money when people realize that there are unauthorized transactions on their cards. The charities will need to return the money and may face fees and penalties. There will also be the inevitable cost of human capital to sort the whole mess out.
The Stratfor hack was apparently done by a group of Anonymous associated with a hacker named Sabu. After Sabu and others posted the Stratfor information online, the main Anonymous group moved quickly to say that they had no part in the breach of the company. In a “press release” on Pastebin, an Anonymous member said that the hack was not done by group and that, “Hackers claiming to be Anonymous have distorted this truth in order to further their hidden agenda, and some Anons have taken the bait.”
The Anonymous member goes on to say:
“Stratfor has been purposefully misrepresented by these so-called Anons and portrayed in false light as a company which engages in activity similar to HBGary. Sabu and his crew are nothing more than opportunistic attention whores who are possibly agent provocateurs. As a media source, Stratfor’s work is protected by the freedom of press, a principle which Anonymous values greatly.”
The mention of HBGary is in reference to a series of hacks that the main Anonymous group did claim responsibility for in July 2011. HBGary and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton were targeted in a raid that released 90,000 emails related to the U.S. Department of Defense and actions taken by those two firms that Anonymous believed to be violating the rights of online citizens. The data collection and dissemination by Stratfor apparently does not fall under the same category of the supposed grievances against Booz Allen Hamilton and HBGary.
The Stratfor website is currently offline as of Monday, Dec. 26 at 12:35 p.m. EST.
What do you think of this supposed Robin Hood move by Sabu and his cohorts? Is this the type of activities that so-called “hacktivists” should be engaging in? Let us know in the comments.