Protest fears force World Bank conference online

World Bank seeks to avoid physical threats by using the Internet, but there are fears that the event could still be disrupted by tech-savvy protesters

The World Bank will hold its next development conference over the Internet in an attempt to avoid demonstrations against global capitalism. But there are fears that IT-proficient protesters could still try to disrupt the gathering.

By holding the conference -- which was supposed to take place next week in Barcelona -- online, the World Bank is hoping to avoid the kind of disruption that took place at last week's European Union summit in Gothenburg. "The intention of many of the groups who plan to converge on Barcelona is not to join the debate or to contribute constructively to the discussion, but to disrupt it," claimed World Bank spokeswoman Caroline Anstey.

It is thought to be the first time a major conference has been held over the Internet specifically to avoid physical demonstrations.

The World Bank hopes to broadcast the whole event live on the Internet, giving users the chance to question conference speakers. One senior executive claimed that the move would make the fight against poverty "more inclusive". The two-day conference is intended to discuss the economic development of the world's poorest countries, and will include speakers from large multi-national companies such as music giant Vivendi.

However, moving the conference online may not prevent protests. One protestor has already warned that someone with good IT skills could well attempt to disrupt the event. "It may be seen as a challenge to scupper the conference," he told the Guardian.

Security experts warn that Denial Of Service (DoS) attacks make it is relatively easy for a Web site to be brought down. In a DoS attack a hacker takes unauthorised control of a large number of other computers and uses them to flood the target server with data requests. Such attacks have been used in the past against the largest Web sites, such as Amazon and Yahoo!.

Police are concerned that protest groups are increasingly using new technology. Last month's May Day protests are thought to have been organised online.

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