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ITU says "network outage" after website cyberattack disrupted Dubai conference

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN body that has played a standards-setting role for global telecommunication networks over the decades, Wednesday night suffered a website attack that severely disrupted a conference to discuss its Internet influence.

The ITU is holding the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai from Dec. 3-15 on the topic of the Internet, and in so doing, has garnered criticism in some quarters that it might be making some kind of power grab to try and control Internet regulation. Among the critics has been the hacktivist group Anonymous, which this week issued a call to its adherents to launch an online attack on the ITU, an action that succeeded in some part.

ITU VS. IETF: Internet standards face-off 

BACKGROUND: ITU goes on the defensive ahead of WCIT meeting

ITU Thursday said last night's "network outage" at one ITU website "blocked civil society, media and other interested parties from following the proceedings, and prevented access to the wealth of online information on the ITU's WCIT home page and Newsroom. Some delegates were frustrated at being unable to access some of the online working documents that were being considered at the meeting. However a spirit of camaraderie prevailed, with those who had access to up-to-date versions of the texts willing to share with other delegates in order to keep discussions moving forward." The ITU noted "some hacker groups are claiming responsibility."

When Network World yesterday inquired of the group Anonymous why it bears resentment toward the ITU, the response from Anonymous was, "While we feel most of the controversial proposals at this year's WCIT stand little chance of passing, we feel that the ITU is extremely non-transparent and un-democratic." The group also indicated its effort against the ITU is being largely driven out of Anonymous Germany.

To be sure, the ITU's moves toward exerting influence over the Internet have raised hackles among many, including the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), which last month expressed deep concern about the ITU approving a standard for deep-packet inspection.

The CDT said the adoption of the standard called "Requirements for Deep Packet Inspection in Next Generation Networks" or "Y.2770" that was approved at last month's World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly, is potentially an "invasive technology."

That's because it could lead to inspection of encrypted traffic, and the CDT's concerns are also backed by European digital rights group EDRi. In addition, several members of the European Parliament have been recently heard issuing public pleas to stop the ITU from "taking over the Internet." 

In terms of the network attack it endured from Anonymous yesterday, the ITU said as a "contingency measure, network traffic was redirected to a backup website hosted in another geographical region" that resulted in "performance degradation" that lasted for about two hours.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: [email protected]

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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