Global affairs website Stratfor relaunched Wednesday, three weeks after hacktivists put it in the dark.
The Statfor caper serves notice about a troublesome new strain of unpredictable censorship arising on the Internet, Stratfor CEO George Friedman says. Hackers claiming responsibility for the Stratfor attack accused the company of being a propaganda arm for corporate and government interests.

They pilfered credit card information and e-mails for more than 50,000 subscribers. They also destroyed the root directories to the company's primary and backup databases. As a coup de grace, the Anonymous hacking collective that took credit bragged on Twitter about "nuking" Stratfor.

"They built a fantasy of us as an incredibly connected, powerful entity, and that was their justification," Friedman says.

Hacking technology has becomes so accessible, and social networking so prevalent, that hacktivists can now lash out indiscriminately — and cause crushing damage, security experts and technologists say.

"Attackers have turned their focus directly onto the databases, where the vast caches of information are stored," says Josh Shaul, chief technology officer at Application Security.

Last spring, hacktivists pilfered and posted payment card data for 77 million Sony PlayStation Network subscribers and 25 million Sony Online Entertainment subscribers. The reason: to protest Sony's lawsuit against a young man for hacking the programming in his PlayStation gaming console.

Protest hacks spread last year to media sites, local law enforcement agencies and even a Mexican drug cartel.

"Each subsequent attack discussed in the media inspires another wave of hactivists," says Michael Sutton, research vice president of security firm Zscaler.

Stratfor would seem like an unlikely target for political protest. Launched in 1996, it delivers think pieces about topics such as predicting Iran and U.S. relations.

"We do the play-by-play of global affairs without rooting for any team," Friedman says. "We have no ideological bent." By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD Associated Press

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