The US government is warning system administrators to monitor their systems for computer attacks planned this week, ahead of the upcoming Washington, D.C., meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this weekend.
The meetings have spurred protests in previous years, but this year anti-globalisation activists are expected to step up their plans, possibly attempting to block traffic on the city's streets on Friday. The US government's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) said on Monday that those planning physical disruption might also use computer attacks to "enhance the effects of the physical attack or to complicate the response by emergency services to the attack."
While there have been no specific cyberthreats issued against the IMF and World Bank meetings, the centre warned that "several hacker groups" could be planning Internet protests.
The centre said that computer attacks could be carried out either by idealistic hackers or simply by publicity seekers. "Cyberprotestors can engage in Web page defacements, denial-of-service attacks, misinformation campaigns, and the like," the NIPC said in a statement.
The centre recommended that system administrators monitor their own computer networks to prevent hackers from either staging attacks on their own networks, or using the network as a jumping-off point to attack a third party.
Administrators were also recommended to review their security procedures, including limiting unnecessary inbound traffic, changing passwords and login names and keeping up-to-date with software patches. Suspicious activity can be reported to FBI offices, the NIPC or other authorities, the NIPC said.
Last summer a European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, was marred by running battles between police and protesters, causing the World Bank to cancel a planned Barcelona meeting and turn it into an online videoconference.
The NIPC dates online activism from 1998, when the "Electronic Disturbance Theater" endorsed a series of attacks on the Web site of the Mexican government.
Aside from using the Internet to stage direct disturbances, protestors have found the Internet an invaluable tool for organising large, widely separated groups for concerted action. An umbrella group called GBGJ15 (Gothenburg June 15) used its Web site to coordinate a series of protest events at the EU summit, even encouraging people to sign up online to be child minders and cooks.