Trade meeting could spark online riots

Experts warn of hacking threats on eve of WTO meeting, while Scotland Yard lags in responding to computer crime.

Security experts and demonstrators claim that on 30 November political demonstrators may launch an unprecedented Internet attack on world financial institutions in conjunction with the meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle.

This comes shortly after e-commerce consultants The Complete (TC) Solution Group advised Seattle businesses of the danger of a riot on a par with that witnessed by London's financial district in June.

Renowned computer security and risk management expert Ian Johnston-Bryden of security firm Oceanus has warned that 18 June-style riots in Seattle may be accompanied by even more severe Internet based attacks on financial institutions worldwide, and even that 18 June may have been a "dry run" for 30 November.

"Some of the hacking stuff that happened on June 18 was dismissed as amateur, but you should never apply your own standards to anyone else. We believe that people have been testing systems all year. Real, professional hackers will have been clocking up weaknesses and potential targets. There are real extremist organisations that, whether you agree with their politics or not, are technically brilliant."

Johnston-Bryden also confirms that it can be very difficult to keep tabs on these sorts of organisations, adding: "Often these right wing or left wing extremist groups will have closed Web sites with one time passwords and encryption that is vastly stronger than commercial encryption."

One anti-capitalist organisation that helped spread information about the 18 June demonstrations, Corporate Watch, confirms that demonstrators are increasingly turning to the Internet to get their message across. A representative says, "Grassroots organisations are using the Internet more and more."

The Metropolitan Police was however nonplussed by this information. DC Cox of the Met's Computer Crime Unit, which is currently responsible for all computer crime in London, was unaware of any possible danger and remarked: "I don't know anything about this, but we will certainly look into it. We will have to see where this information is coming from and consider what action to take."

Scotland Yard is currently considering developing a dedicated nationwide computer crime department, following the recommendations of the Trawler Report. The possible threat of 30 November raises the question of whether the government should already have set up such an agency.

But according to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), there simply hasn't been enough time for an organised response to computer attacks. A spokeswoman confirms that a national computer crime department will not be created until at least the end of the year, saying: "You have to remember that it takes a while to sort out resources and that sort of thing."

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