Nearly three weeks later, after having their Internet presence wiped entirely by supporters of the AntiSec movement, Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor) has reactivated their website. On Wednesday, as their domain resurfaced, Stratfor’s CEO offered some comments on the breach, as well as some additional details.
Stratfor is an intelligence gathering firm located in Austin, Texas. On Christmas Eve, they were wiped from the Internet by supporters of the AntiSec movement. A week after the Stratfor domain was taken down, nearly a million records were released by AntiSec, including usernames, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, credit card details, and hashed passwords. In addition, it was reported that they copied nearly 200GBs worth of the Stratfor’s email, roughly 2.7 messages in all.
They knew it was coming
According to George Friedman, Stratfor’s CEO, his company knew that the personal information and credit card details were taken long before they were announced by AntiSec. The warning, Friedman explained in a statement to the public, came from the FBI.
“...I met with an FBI special agent, who made clear that there was an ongoing investigation and asked for our cooperation. We, of course, agreed to cooperate... From the beginning I faced a dilemma. I felt bound to protect our customers, who quickly had to be informed about the compromise of their privacy. I also felt bound to protect the investigation,” he wrote.
Friedman said that the FBI solved his dilemma by informing the organizations who issued the compromised cards. They were provided with a list of names and account numbers, but they were not told that the source of the compromise was Stratfor.
This is interesting to us here at The Tech Herald, because we know of at least one person who had two active credit cards leaked during the Stratfor breach. If his bank was notified by the FBI, he didn’t get the memo. He learned of his exposure only after we informed him. So we have to wonder who got the FBI’s magic list, and what did they do with it? Due to the fact that the investigation is ongoing, no one at the DOJ would comment.
Addressing the collection and storage of the stolen credit card data, Friedman said that he knew Stratfor’s reputation would be damaged when the world learned that they stored credit card information (and CVV data) in the clear.
Calling it a failure on their part, Friedman took responsibility for the error and apologized for creating hardships for customers and friends. The lack of security surrounding the stolen credit card data originated in the rapid growth experienced by Stratfor, he added, noting that as the company grew the management team and administrative processes didn't grow with it.
Going from bad to worse
The letter written by Friedman goes on to say that Stratfor was under no illusion that the credit card breach was going to be kept secret. They knew the data would become public, but they assumed that was the worst of it. “I was wrong,” Friedman said.
“Early in the afternoon of Dec. 24, I was informed that our website had been hacked again... We had expected they would announce the credit card theft. We were dismayed that emails had been taken. But our shock was at the destruction of our servers. This attack was clearly designed to silence us by destroying our records and the website, unlike most attacks by such groups.”
Expanding on this some, Friedman spoke to Byron Acohido, a USA Today reporter and the man behind The Last Watchdog blog. [The full interview with Acohido is here.]:
“Individuals now have the ability, with full anonymity, to decide who they like and dislike, and if they dislike them, use their technology to destroy them. We’re lucky in that we have the financial and staff resources to recover. But there are other organizations that can be completely silenced, and never know who silenced them or why they did it...
“If you want the definition of a new fascism it is faceless people, setting the rules, not forgetting, not forgiving and promising that they’re coming. That’s really a frightening vision of what’s going on. Imagine if this becomes a general activity.
“We are entering a very dangerous space now. Anyone can have the skill and knowledge to do this. Any ideology can to it. It’s not as if this is a particular threat from the left or from Wall Street. It can come from anywhere, and anyone who disapproves of you can wreak havoc.”
From his point, Friedman’s letter on Stratfor.com moves on to how the story of the breach spiraled out of control.
“We were no longer an organization that analyzed the world for the interested public, but rather a group of incompetents and, conversely, the hub of a global conspiracy. The media focused on the first while the hacking community focused on the second.”
On the internet, the ability to remain faceless and unknown, the key definition of anonymity, is one of the Internet’s best virtues and terrible weaknesses, Stratfor’s top executive explained. This is because it allows crimes to be committed without any accountability.
“The consequence of this will not be a glorious anarchy in the spirit of Guy Fawkes, but rather a massive repression. I think this is a pity. That's why I wonder who the hackers actually are and what cause they serve. I am curious as to whether they realize the whirlwind they are sowing, and whether they, in fact, are trying to generate the repression they say they oppose.”
In the end, Friedman concluded, AntiSec’s efforts to silence Stratfor failed, as their domain has returned, their email is working, and the security failures that were exposed are being rectified.
“We are fortunate that we have the financial resources and staff commitment to survive the attack. Others might not. We are now in a world in which anonymous judges, jurors, and executioners can silence whom they want. Take a look at the list of organizations attacked. If the crushing attack on Stratfor is the new model, we will not be the last.”