Out of the frying pan, into the fire: Global intelligence firm Stratfor may have secured its perimeters after its servers were infiltrated late last year, but a mammoth email dump just hit the grid courtesy Wikileaks.
In December 2011, members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous suggested they’d breached Texas-based intelligence and threat analysis firm Stratfor, goading the company by tweeting “Thanks for storing your customers’ CC/CCV #s in cleartext, w/corresponding addresses. Y u no bother encrypting?” At the time, a security firm laid hands on the stolen data, deducing that 9,000 active credit cards, 27,000 phone numbers and 20,000 “easily cracked” passwords had been dumped into the online wilds. Anonymous members also claimed at the time that they had emails from over 100 company employees and would eventually release them.
The other shoe may finally be dropping: Controversial whistleblower Wikileaks has begun publishing some five million emails — dubbed “The Global Intelligence Files” — allegedly pilfered from the geopolitics site. According to Wikileaks, the emails “reveal the inner working of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations.” Wikileaks name-checks several Fortune 500 corporations as well as U.S. government agencies in its statement. The group hasn’t confirmed the emails were handed off by Anonymous, but one of the hacker group’s Twitter accounts offered self-plaudits this morning, hailing “the amazing partnership between #Anonymous and #WikiLeaks to make all 5 MILLION mails public.”
Stratfor’s response this morning has been to call the release “a deplorable, unfortunate — and illegal — breach of privacy.” It’s also calling into question the emails’ veracity, writing that “[some] of the e-mails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic,” adding that it “will not validate either … [nor] will we explain the thinking that went into them.” Stratfor adds that its data servers remain “secure and protected.”
Wikileaks claims the emails “show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods,” adding that the emails “expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States” and alleging that government-related sources around the world give Stratfor political scoops in trade for cash. Speaking to Reuters, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called Stratfor “a private intelligence firm, relying on informants from the U.S. government, foreign intelligence agencies with questionable reputations and journalists,” adding that “[what] is of grave concern is that the targets of this scrutiny are, among others, activist organizations fighting for a just cause.”
Shortly after September 11, 2001, Stratfor, which had made its “breaking news” and predictive analysis available freely to the public, was referred to in a Barron‘s piece as a kind of “shadow CIA,” allegedly “ahead of the news — and the CIA — in global hotspots.”
I’m no expert on Stratfor’s inner workings, how they get their information, or who they sell it to, but I’ve consulted the free side of their website on and off since the late 1990s, when a friend pointed me their way for what he described as “global intelligence analysis.” He added that its head mucky-muck, George Friedman, tended to be hawkish on international matters, but said the level of detail the site offered was unlike anything available elsewhere in the media. I found that to be true then, though it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve spent much time there, and couldn’t say now.