A group of hackers, calling themselves "Virtual Monkey- wrench," have come forward to claim responsibility for stealing personal data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) computer system.
In an interview with the Swiss weekly newspaper, "SonntagsZeitung," the group justified its actions, saying that it had used "good sabotage" to make a statement about the freedom of information.
They were quoted as saying that the cyber-attack had been an attempt to destabilise the forum and "undermine the influence of the Davos authorities".
They also said they wanted to "attack power and the powerful".
The interview, which was conducted in writing through an intermediary, revealed that altogether, four people were involved in the group.
"In our eyes, intellectual property is illegitimate," the group wrote, "It only serves the interests of the powerful."
The group described its personal politics as "a synthesis between anarchy and hacker ethics".
The hackers accessed sensitive information about some of the world's richest and most powerful people stored on one of its computer systems.
The group said it used "standard software" to download over 400,000 pages of data about 27,000 forum participants.
According to the hackers, stealing the data was easy. "It was just lying there offering itself in a show window," said an unidentified member of the group.
Some of the information was released to "SonntagsZeitung", including the names and titles of the Davos participants who had been targeted. The newspaper has published the data on its website (see address below).
The members of Virtual Monkeywrench said they did not target countries or multinational companies because "it wouldn't change the system".
A spokesperson for the WEF, Charles McLean, attacked the newspaper's publication of the data.
"They are trafficking in stolen material and using it to sell newspapers," he said. "There is no news value in this and they need to be held accountable."
McLean said the newspaper had refused requests from the World Economic Forum that all copies of the data be returned and that legal options were being considered.
WEF authorities launched an internal investigation into the affair when the security breach was revealed last month.
Among the personalities whose details were accessed were the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, the Microsoft chief, Bill Gates and a number of other political and business leaders.
The WEF said it appeared that the hackers managed to penetrate a "remnant database" used to accumulate information on participants at regional WEF meetings held during 2000.
Neither the WEF's main computer system in Geneva, nor the one used for Davos 2001, were apparently targeted.
The data was mainly the kind of information which is readily available in the participants booklets handed out at such meetings. However, the credit card details of around 1,400 participants was also taken.
The theft of their confidential details has added to the pressure on the Forum, which attracted vociferous criticism over the unprecedented security operation deployed in Davos last month.
swissinfo with agencies