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Stratfor cyberattack adds an exclamation point to ‘Year of the Hack’

The 'hack and extract' attack on the strategic think tank Stratfor will only contribute to the public and media awareness of cybercrime that has grown throughout 2011.

By Staff writer / December 26, 2011

Stratfor cyberattack: A person stands near the Apple logo at the company's new store in Grand Central Terminal in New York, Dec. 7. Apple was one of the many companies that were hacked by cyber criminals in 2011. Will 2011 be remembered as the year of the hack?

Mark Lennihan/AP/File


Don’t be too surprised if historians look back at 2011 and dub it “The Year of the Hack.” If so, it won't likely be due to raw numbers of computer networks infiltrated or websites defaced, but rather the fact that cyberspies, criminals, and hacktivists finally registered as a major threat in the public mind and with news media.

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The “hack and extract” attack targeting the Texas-based strategic think tank Strategic Forecasting Inc. (or Statfor), which the firm reported Sunday, reinforced that growing awareness of cybercrime.

In the attack, which the hackers said was carried out by the group Anonymous but was later disavowed by others claiming to speak for the hacktivist group, Statfor’s confidential client list was stolen, as were thousands of the clients’ credit card numbers. Some clients reported fraudulent charges on their accounts.

It’s difficult to determine if the overall number of cyberincidents in 2011 was more or less significant than previous years since the severity of such attacks is so subjective and information so limited, cyberexperts say.

Yet the sheer volume of high-profile incidents covered heavily by news media outlets seemed significant to several analysts while at the same time a large number of hacks were quite sophisticated and alarming from a national security perspective.

“There seems to have been a rather noticeable increase in attention given to hacking by news media and a corresponding increase in the public interest and awareness of such hacks,” says Patrick Underwood, a University of Washington researcher on online communities, including Anonymous.

At least 58 highly-publicized hacking attacks occurred in 2011 with victim organizations around the world ranging from law enforcement agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and governments to defense agencies and military contractors, according to a Monitor tally compiled from lists drawn up by the Center for Strategic Studies, The Hacker News, and a George Mason University study.

“I would call it the ‘Great Awakening,’ when people finally realized the extent of the problem,” writes James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in an e-mail interview.

While some highly reported hacks were ultimately deemed relatively trivial – briefly knocking the public website of the Central Intelligence Agency out of commission, for instance – such attacks were still part of a 2011 wave that showed many major government institutions seemingly quite vulnerable.


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