The hacker group "Anonymous" claims to have penetrated the American security firm Stratfor and stolen private credit card numbers, emails, passwords, and addresses from a number of the firm's clients.
Some of the information was published online via the network Twitter, where users were encouraged to download the information. In other cases, unauthorized charges were made to credit cards for payments to charitable organizations such as CARE and the American Red Cross.
According to statements posted online by the hackers, obtaining the data was made much easier for them by the fact that Stratfor did not encrypt its data.
Since the cyber-attack on Sunday, Stratfor's website has been taken down and replaced by the company's logo and a message that says the "site is currently undergoing maintenance."
More data abuse to come?
Posts to Twitter indicated that Anonymous had only published a fraction of the stolen data it was able to maintain. All told, Anonymous says it has 200 gigabytes of information on 4,000 of the company's clients.
Among the companies and institutions affected are the United States Air Force, the Miami Police Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and computer firms Apple and Microsoft.
Stratfor offers clients reduced risk through political, economic and military analysis reports.
The incident has been reported to law enforcement agents and is being investigated, said Fred Burton, Stratfor's vice president of intelligence.
But he added that "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."
Author: Matt Zuvela (AP, AFP)
Editor: Ben Knight