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Source: Excite News

Posted on February 5, 2001

      Computer hackers obtained credit card details and other personal information for hundreds of attendees of World Economic Forum meetings, which annually draw such notables as Madeleine Albright, Bill Gates and Yasser Arafat.

      Organizers of the annual gathering confirmed Monday that hackers broke into a computer containing the credit card numbers and other confidential data. But they denied reports that former President Clinton had been among the people compromised.

      Anti-globalization protesters appeared to be behind the break-in and there was no indication the hackers had used any of the information maliciously.

      Such acts, known as "hacktivism," are part of a relatively new way of combining hacking with political resistance.

      Charles McLean, spokesman for the World Economic Forum, said hackers had obtained "proprietary data like credit card numbers" of 1,400 prominent people, but not necessarily those who attended the annual meetings of world leaders at Davos in the Swiss Alps.

      The Zurich-based weekly SonntagsZeitung, which disclosed the security breach Sunday, said it had seen the contents of a CD-ROM that included data on Clinton, South African President Thabo Mbeki, China's No. 2 ruler Li Peng, Palestinian leader Arafat and others.

      SonntagsZeitung said the CD-ROM contained secured information on 27,000 people who have attended the global forum in recent years, including former Secretary of State Albright and Microsoft founder Gates.

      McLean dismissed that number as the mailing list of the forum's magazine, and called some of the names in the article "wildly inaccurate." He would not elaborate.

      The newspaper said its reporters had been shown 80,000 pages of information, including numbers of passports and personal cellular phones of many of the government and business leaders who have attend the annual gathering in Davos. It said the hackers also were able to get the "exact arrival and departure times, hotel names, room numbers, number of overnights, sessions attended" of all 3,200 people who attended Davos last month.

      McLean said that was untrue. However, an "independent media" Web site run by anti-globalization activists published flight and programming information that appeared to be authentic based on when world leaders actually arrived and departed.

      The forum, which organizes the meetings, filed a complaint Monday with Geneva law enforcement authorities that requires state prosecutors to investigate and empowers them to stop dissemination of the data if they determine who has it, McLean said.

      "We regard this as a serious crime, not as a prank," he said.

      Swiss federal authorities declined to conduct a national investigation.

      "What concerns us are these 1,400 people, roughly, whose credit card numbers were listed," McLean said. "That's obviously the focus of our concern."

      They are business people, government officials, academics and journalists who participated in regional meetings held last year - in Melbourne, Australia; New Delhi; Rio de Janeiro; Washington, D.C.; Salzburg, Austria; and Durban, South Africa, he said.

      Clinton, who addressed the Davos meeting last year, wouldn't have been in that database because he did not attend any regional meetings, McLean said. He declined to comment on anyone else.

      "We're making a great effort today to make sure every one of those people has been contacted and made aware of the problem," he said.

      Karen Tramontano at the Clinton transition office in Washington said they had heard nothing about the hacking. Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said the company had no comment.

      McLean said he did not know who broke into the computer or how, but the hackers "did not penetrate our main database; they did not penetrate the Davos database, apparently."

      SonntagsZeitung said the data had been collected by anti-globalization protesters. Opponents who have mounted demonstrations against the forum maintain that it is an exclusive club acting in the interests of big business and against the world's poor.

      Mexican guerrilla and Yugoslav hackers have used "hacktivism" and several Pakistani groups periodically target Indian Web sites.

      Arab computer hackers, meanwhile, have launched attacks on Jewish Web sites in Israel and the United States. In November, Pakistani-based hackers attacked a U.S. Web site belonging to a powerful pro-Israel lobby, stealing credit card numbers and member records.

      Kent Anderson, vice president of computer security and investigations with London-based Control Risks Group, said hacktivisms have been on the rise in recent years. The early attacks were largely efforts to cripple Web sites for short periods, Anderson said, while hackers are now exposing credit cards and personal information as well.

      Amit Yoran, chief executive of Riptech, an Internet security firm in Alexandria, Va., told The Associated Press that hackers often try to break into a system through a computer that runs a Web site.

      "Once you break in (to the Web server), there are fewer protections between it and other parts of the network," Yoran said.

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