The New York Timesfront-page report this week that the Chinese army is hacking into America’s most sensitive computer networks from a 12-story building outside Shanghai might finally persuade skeptics that the threat of “cyber warfare” isn’t the fevered fantasy of Richard Clarke, the producers of Die Hard 4, or the generals at the ever-growing U.S. Cyber Command. Alas, it’s real.

But what is the threat? Few of those in the know believe that some fine day, out of the blue, China will zap the programs that run our power grids, gas lines, waterworks, or banking systems, sending our economy—and much else—into a tailspin. Even if the Chinese could pull off such a feat with one keystroke, it’s hard to imagine what they’d accomplish, especially since their fortunes are wrapped up with our own.

The more worrisome threat is subtler: that the Chinese (or some other powers) will use their ability to wreak cyberhavoc as leverage to strengthen their position, and weaken ours, in a diplomatic crisis or a conventional war.

For instance, in a brewing conflict over Taiwan or the South China Sea (areas where China has asserted claims aggressively in recent years), would an American president respond with full military force if he knew that the Chinese would retaliate by turning out all the lights on the Eastern Seaboard?

A familiar concept in strategic war games is “escalation-dominance.” The idea is that victory goes to the player who can take a conflict to the next level of violence in a way that inflicts enormous damage on his opponent but very little on himself. The expected outcome of the next round is so obvious that the opponent decides not to escalate; the dominant player thus controls the subsequent course of the battle and possibly wins the war.

Real war is messier than war games. Escalation holds risks all round. The two sides might have different perceptions of which one is dominant. Or the dominant side might miscalculate the opponent’s strategic priorities. For instance, China might think the American president values uninterrupted electricity on the East Coast more than a free, independent Taiwan—but that thought might be mistaken.

Still, leaders in war and crisis do take these kinds of factors into account. Many surrenders in history have been prompted less by the damage already absorbed than by fears of the damage to come.

And China is not the only foe or rival whose calculations are complicating this new cyber world. Iran is another. Last summer, all of a sudden, a computer virus nicknamed Shamoon erased three-quarters of the Aramco oil company’s corporate files, replacing much of it with images of a burning American flag. It is widely believed that the Iranians planted the “kill switch” in retaliation for the U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet virus that disabled the centrifuges in their nuclear program

The implicit message sent not only to the United States but also, and perhaps more importantly, to its Arab commercial partners: Don’t mess with us, or we will mess with you. The Shamoon virus is now regarded as the hint of another consequence that we’d likely face in the aftermath of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Will it deter such a strike or serve as the final straw in a pile of risks that deters us from striking (or deters the West’s Arab allies from playing whatever part they might play in an attack)? Hard to say, but the Iranians probably intended the virus to have that effect.

So, what to do about all this?

The basic task is to dissuade potential foes from thinking that they would gain escalation-dominance by launching, or having the ability to launch, a cyberattack on America’s infrastructure.

A popular notion of how to do this is to threaten “retaliation in kind”—or, taking a phrase from the nuclear-deterrence playbook, “mutual assured destruction.” This threat has its place in cyberwar but also its limits, because the United States is far more dependent on computer networks, in every aspect of its national security and its daily economic life, than China, Iran, or any other prospective foe or rival. Retaliation in kind might not serve as a sufficient deterrent because it would inflict much less damage on them than their first strike would inflict on us.

A better, but much harder, way is to defend the critical infrastructure in the first place. There are limits to this, too. First, we’re in too deep; we can’t untether our economy from the Internet any more than we can detour all road traffic off the interstate. Second, there is no such thing as a perfect defense; if well-funded, well-trained predators want to get in, they will get in. Still, there are ways to wall off or split up the most critical segments of infrastructure—and to monitor further efforts to break in. If they haven’t already, the private companies responsible for this infrastructure should start to take these steps immediately.

That is the point behind President Obama’s recent executive order on cybersecurity. In recent years, Congress has rejected bills requiring Internet service providers to follow government standards on security for various reasons, many of them legitimate. The executive order at least allows government agencies to share information with ISPs, some of it classified, on how to meet these standards themselves. It’s a good first step.

But there’s another way to stave off the danger of cyberwar, and that’s diplomacy.

In his extremely important 2010 book Cyber War, Richard Clarke likened the current era to the decade after the first atomic bombs, when American, then Soviet, scientists built these weapons of enormous destructiveness—but before politicians or strategists devised ways of thinking about them rationally: how to control them, deter their use, or limit their damage if a war couldn’t be deterred.

It’s time to move on to the next era, when this sort of thinking did occur, not just in secretive research tanks but also in open discussions and international negotiations. Clarke, who was chief of counterterrorism and cybersecurity for Presidents Clinton and Bush, spells out ways that concepts from nuclear arms control—inspections and verification, no first use, and ideas from other accords, including the Geneva Conventions—might be applied to cyberweapons.

In any case, it’s sheer silliness, at this point, to keep cyber issues off the table for fear of upsetting the sensitivities of Chinese officials (who deny that they have offensive cyberwarfare programs) and thus possibly triggering a diplomatic crisis. A crisis already looms from all sides of the globe; the United States, after all, has an offensive cyberwarfare program, too. Best to deal with it head-on, and soon.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Google chairman Eric Schmidt brands China in his coming book an internet menace that sanctions cyber crime for economic and political gain, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The New Digital Age authored by Schmidt in collaboration with Jared Cohen, a former US State Department adviser who now heads a Google Ideas think tank, is due for release by Random House in April.

The book looks at how the internet impacts culture, commerce, politics and other aspects of life, while depicting China as a powerful and dangerous force in this new world, according to the Journal.

The authors called China the most prolific hacker of foreign companies and the most enthusiastic filterer of information.

“The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States at a distinct disadvantage,” the newspaper quoted the authors as saying in the book.

“The United States will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage” due to stricter laws and the American “sense of fair play”, it added.

The book reportedly also points to US flaws, such as Washington’s suspected role in a Stuxnet virus that targeted nuclear facilities in Iran and private companies here that sell surveillance technology to oppressive regimes.

Schmidt and his co-author verge on suggesting that Western governments emulate China when it comes to building tight relationships between government interests and moves by technology companies, according to the Journal.

Countries stand to have an advantage if the gear and software they use to get online is made by companies they can trust, the book reportedly argues.

“Where Huawei gains market share, the influence and reach of China grow as well,” the Journal quoted the authors as writing.

Despite unscrupulously using internet technology to its advantage, China will see “some kind of revolution in the coming decades” as citizens armed with digital age gadgets are pitted against tight government controls, the book is said to predict.


Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


JOURNALISTS are on notice. If you investigate the Chinese government, Chinese hackers will come after you.

That’s what you should conclude from the disclosure by The New York Times that it was hacked for four months by attackers it suspects were associated with the Chinese military.

The likely motive, the Times said, was retaliation for the newspaper’s investigation into the wealth amassed by the family of China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao.

This was not the first time Chinese hackers had attacked journalists. They infiltrated Bloomberg News last year, the Times reported. They have also gone after the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal and other Western media.

The outcome might be chilling: now that a Chinese attack on The New York Times is international news, any dissident or potential whistleblower in China will be wary of talking to journalists. In other words, the hack worked.

The attack on The New York Times points out why cyber-attacks are such an effective weapon, especially when aimed at journalists.

The Times was quickly on to the hackers as the paper had expected a response to its investigation, and AT&T, which had been monitoring the paper’s network, alerted the Times to a potential hack on the day it published the Wen investigation.

But anticipating the hackers would come in response to the Wen Jiabao expose did not really help the Times – the hackers still managed to obtain the corporate passwords of every one of its employees and broke into the PCs of 53 of them. They also infiltrated the email accounts of two reporters who cover China, including David Barboza, who conducted the investigation into Mr Wen’s family.

Unfortunately, security experts said, the Times could not be sure the hackers were gone, nor that they did not find anything of value.

Until now, a government or criminal enterprise had two options if did not like something a reporter had written – it could shut down the outlet or kill the journalist. Hacking presents a third option, one that is far more nuanced and effective.

It is anonymous and China can maintain plausible denials.

The hackers can get what they want – a reporter’s sources, information about how a news outlet works and who to cozy up to, perhaps personal information that could be helpful for blackmail – all without anyone finding out.

Hacking crosses borders. In the past a foreign paper would have been more protected from Chinese governmental repercussions than a local paper. Not any more. Now hackers can get you anywhere, and they can make life hell for everyone you work with.

Finally and most importantly, hacking is almost impossible to defend against.

Journalists have to use computers and the internet. If they do that, they are opening themselves to attack.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


IF YOU’VE ever suspected politics is increasingly being run in the interests of big business, I have news: Jeffrey Sachs, a highly respected economist from Columbia University, agrees with you – at least in respect of the United States.

In his book, The Price of Civilisation, he says the US economy is caught in a feedback loop. ”Corporate wealth translates into political power through campaign financing, corporate lobbying and the revolving door of jobs between government and industry; and political power translates into further wealth through tax cuts, deregulation and sweetheart contracts between government and industry. Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth,” he says.

Sachs says four key sectors of US business exemplify this feedback loop and the takeover of political power in America by the ”corporatocracy”.

First is the well-known military-industrial complex. ”As [President] Eisenhower famously warned in his farewell address in January 1961, the linkage of the military and private industry created a political power so pervasive that America has been condemned to militarisation, useless wars and fiscal waste on a scale of many tens of trillions of dollars since then,” he says.

Second is the Wall Street-Washington complex, which has steered the financial system towards control by a few politically powerful Wall Street firms, notably Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and a handful of other financial firms.

These days, almost every US Treasury secretary – Republican or Democrat – comes from Wall Street and goes back there when his term ends. The close ties between Wall Street and Washington ”paved the way for the 2008 financial crisis and the mega-bailouts that followed, through reckless deregulation followed by an almost complete lack of oversight by government”.

Third is the Big Oil-transport-military complex, which has put the US on the trajectory of heavy oil-imports dependence and a deepening military trap in the Middle East, he says.

”Since the days of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Trust a century ago, Big Oil has loomed large in American politics and foreign policy. Big Oil teamed up with the automobile industry to steer America away from mass transit and towards gas-guzzling vehicles driving on a nationally financed highway system.”

Big Oil has consistently and successfully fought the intrusion of competition from non-oil energy sources, including nuclear, wind and solar power.

It has been at the side of the Pentagon in making sure that America defends the sea-lanes to the Persian Gulf, in effect ensuring a $US100 billion-plus annual subsidy for a fuel that is otherwise dangerous for national security, Sachs says.

”And Big Oil has played a notorious role in the fight to keep climate change off the US agenda. Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries and others in the sector have underwritten a generation of anti-scientific propaganda to confuse the American people.”

Fourth is the healthcare industry, America’s largest industry, absorbing no less than 17 per cent of US gross domestic product.

”The key to understanding this sector is to note that the government partners with industry to reimburse costs with little systematic oversight and control,” Sachs says. ”Pharmaceutical firms set sky-high prices protected by patent rights; Medicare [for the aged] and Medicaid [for the poor] and private insurers reimburse doctors and hospitals on a cost-plus basis; and the American Medical Association restricts the supply of new doctors through the control of placements at medical schools.

”The result of this pseudo-market system is sky-high costs, large profits for the private healthcare sector, and no political will to reform.”

Now do you see why the industry put so much effort into persuading America’s punters that Obamacare was rank socialism? They didn’t succeed in blocking it, but the compromised program doesn’t do enough to stop the US being the last rich country in the world without universal healthcare.

It’s worth noting that, despite its front-running cost, America’s healthcare system doesn’t leave Americans with particularly good health – not as good as ours, for instance. This conundrum is easily explained: America has the highest-paid doctors.

Sachs says the main thing to remember about the corporatocracy is that it looks after its own. ”There is absolutely no economic crisis in corporate America.

”Consider the pulse of the corporate sector as opposed to the pulse of the employees working in it: corporate profits in 2010 were at an all-time high, chief executive salaries in 2010 rebounded strongly from the financial crisis, Wall Street compensation in 2010 was at an all-time high, several Wall Street firms paid civil penalties for financial abuses, but no senior banker faced any criminal charges, and there were no adverse regulatory measures that would lead to a loss of profits in finance, health care, military supplies and energy,” he says.

The 30-year achievement of the corporatocracy has been the creation of America’s rich and super-rich classes, he says. And we can now see their tools of trade.

”It began with globalisation, which pushed up capital income while pushing down wages. These changes were magnified by the tax cuts at the top, which left more take-home pay and the ability to accumulate greater wealth through higher net-of-tax returns to saving.”

Chief executives then helped themselves to their own slice of the corporate sector ownership through outlandish awards of stock options by friendly and often handpicked compensation committees, while the Securities and Exchange Commission looked the other way. It’s not all that hard to do when both political parties are standing in line to do your bidding, Sachs concludes.

Fortunately, things aren’t nearly so bad in Australia. But it will require vigilance to stop them sliding further in that direction

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Earlier this month, President Obama argued that wealthy business people owe some of their success to the government’s investment in education and basic infrastructure. He cited roads, bridges, and schools. Then he singled out the most clear-cut example of how government investment can spark huge business opportunities: the Internet.
Web Marketing Experts

“The Internet didn’t get invented on its own,” Obama said. “Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Until recently this wouldn’t have been a controversial statement. Everyone in the tech world knows that the Internet got its start in the 1960s, when a team of computing pioneers at the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency designed and deployed ARPANET, the first computer network that used “packet switching”—a communications system that splits up data and sends it across multiple paths toward its destination, which is the basic design of today’s Internet. According to most accounts, researchers working on ARPANET created many of the Internet’s defining features, including TCP/IP, the protocol on which today’s network operates. In the 1980s, they strung together various government and university networks together using TCP/IP—thus creating a single worldwide network, the Internet.

Suddenly, though, the government’s role in the Internet’s creation is being cast into doubt. “It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet,” Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, argued Monday in a widely linked Journal op-ed. Instead, Crovitz believes that “full credit” for the Internet’s creation ought to go to Xerox, whose Silicon Valley research facility, Xerox PARC, created the Ethernet networking standard as well as the first graphical computer (famously the inspiration for Apple’s Mac). According to Crovitz, not only did the government not create the Internet, it slowed its arrival—that researchers were hassled by “bureaucrats” who stymied the network’s success.

“It’s important to understand the history of the Internet because it’s too often wrongly cited to justify big government,” Crovitz says. I’ll give him one thing: It is important to understand the history of the Internet. Too bad he doesn’t seem interested in doing so. - web conferencing, web demos, and remote access over the Web

Crovitz’s entire yarn is almost hysterically false. He gets basic history wrong, he gets the Internet’s defining technologies wrong, and, most importantly, he misses the important interplay between public and private funds that has been necessary for all great modern technological advances.

If you spend time looking at the history of the Internet, you’ll find the government there at every step. Researchers working directly for the government and at university labs funded by the government were some of the first people on the planet to think up a worldwide network, and, at the beginning, they were the only people working to build such an outlandish thing. That’s not true just of the Internet. Pop open your smartphone and you’ll find government research at the heart of just about every component, from the batteries to the GPS chip to the microprocessor to the multitouch interface. Website Promotion

This doesn’t mean that the government deserves all credit for creating your phone. But it does mean that President Obama was right—in tech, no one does anything on his own. Useful products are usually the result of years of research by smart people at various instituitions: government labs, university labs, and corporate R&D campuses. The history of the Internet, like much of everything else that makes our world so magical, proves that in the tech industry, it takes a village.

If you want to find out who built the Internet and why, there are a few main sources you should consult. If you’ve got time, read Where Wizards Stay Up Late, Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon’s definitive history of the founding of the worldwide network. If you don’t have much time, look at A Brief History of the Internet, written by many of the scientists who worked on the system in its early days. The many Wikipedia articles on the history of the Internet are also quite helpful. All these sources put the lie to Crovitz’s ridiculously partisan theory that Xerox, and not the government, created the Internet.
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Some of Crovitz’s errors seem to stem from technological ignorance; in arguing that Xerox’s graphical machines were in some way responsible for the design of the Internet, Crovitz seems to conflate the Internet and the World Wide Web. The Web is the system of linked, usually graphical documents you see in a Web browser—i.e., sites like Slate. The Internet is the network over which the Web and other communications systems—e-mail, instant messaging, file-sharing—travel. The Internet predated the Web.
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Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Learn English Online


We have heard a lot about China becoming the world’s largest this and that. In 2009, when the world was in recession, China leapfrogged the U.S. to become the world’s largest auto market. In 2010, China overtook Germany as the world’s largest exporter. This year, China is likely to surpass Japan to become the world’s largest luxury goods market.
The China Inventory

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when The Economist predicts that China will become the world’s largest importer by 2014. Yet, many skeptics still doubt China’s potential to be a stronghold of the world economy.

Last month, I was on BBC World News to discuss the eurozone debt crisis and whether Chinese consumers can make a difference in the world economy.  My discussion partner Johathon Holslag from the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies argued that Chinese consumption is still far below its production, and people should not be over optimistic about China rescuing the world economy. See the discussion video below:

Yes, official statistics show that consumption is only 34 percent of China’s GDP (compared to 70 percent in the U.S.). While the West’s economy is imbalanced with over-spending, the Chinese economy is imbalanced with under-consumption. However, this dynamic is changing. When I travel in China, I can clearly see the consumption boom in China’s large and small cities. Retail has been growing like a wildfire in recent years.

While it is not China’s role to save the world economy, it is in China’s best interest to balance its own economy toward domestic consumption. In so doing, China serves as a counter-balance of over-spending Western economies.  China may not want to bail out Italy or Greece, but China can provide opportunities for these troubled economies to get their own house in order.
The China Inventory

As matter of fact, China has already helped. The Chinese middle class is creating enormous opportunities for Western companies selling into China. Europe’s exports to China have been growing steadily. In the first half of 2010, Germany’s exports to China increased 55 percent. Exports from other EU countries such as France and Italy all had double-digit increase for the same period.

Many Western brands are doing extremely well in China. For example, Chinese consumers prefer to pay a premium price for furniture that is made in Italy. The UK-listed retailer Burberry has opened 60 stores in China and plans to have 100 stores in the near future. Western automakers, from Volkswagen to Bentley to General Motors, are enjoying huge success in China.

In the coming years, China’s economy may slow down a little, but will still grow at least at 7 or 8 percent. There are plenty of opportunities for Western companies to take advantage of China’s growing middle class. For companies that want to export to China, here are a few useful tips:

  • Check out your local Chamber of Commerce or Export Assistance Center and familiarize yourselves with legal and regulatory issues in China. These facilities also have a lot of resources and services that can help you develop China market entry strategies and find the right business partners.
  • Consider rebranding or repositioning your products in China. Remember, what works in your native country may not work in China. You really need to learn about Chinese culture, understand Chinese consumers, and adapt your products and services to the China market.
  • For smaller brands, e-commerce is a great way to break into the China market without significant upfront cost. China’s ecommerce has been growing at 60 percent each year in recent years. More than 100 million Chinese shopped online last year. And China’s Internet users are expected to reach 750 million in 2015.

According to Credit Suisse, China will become the largest consumer market in the world by 2020. In the past, all the predictions about China have proved to be on the conservative side. With all its problems and potential crises, China somehow has managed to astonish the world again and again.

Helen H. Wang is the author of The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You.

**Get a number in your home country that connects to your mobile in China. Try Now!

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha







Asylum compo bill tops $16m

Natalie O’Brien

June 11, 2011

ALMOST $8 million in compensation has been paid to 55 asylum seekers and detainees in the past two years for injuries and psychological damage suffered while in Australian detention centres.

The payments bring the total amount of compensation paid in the past decade to more than $16 million, Department of Immigration figures show. From 2000 to 2009, there were 54 compensation cases.

But the bill to taxpayers is expected to grow as another 32 claims for compensation were lodged with the courts between July 2009 and March. A spokeswoman for the DoI said most of these cases related to time in immigration detention and involved 10 people who arrived by boat.

Advocates have warned that, as the number of asylum seekers and others being kept in detention centres continues to rise, so will the number of cases for compensation.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said asylum seekers had appropriate access to health and mental health services in detention, including psychologists and other mental health practitioners.

”The payouts you refer to relate to people in immigration detention prior to August 2007 and most related to the 247 cases that were referred by the department to the Ombudsman following the Palmer and Comrie reports,” the spokesman said. ”The increase in compensation over the past three years is due to the department resolving many of these.”

Julian Burnside, QC, said there would be many more cases before the courts unless the way people were treated in detention changed. ”It is so utterly predictable,” he said. ”Psychiatrists would have told us this would happen. History has shown us this has happened, and [continues] to happen.”

? A Fijian woman in a wheelchair who suffered a brain tumour and now has Parkinson’s disease will be thrown out of the country, even though her children are Australian citizens and her primary carers.

The Department of Immigration has refused a visa for Kushma Wati Kishore and her husband, and are intent on forcing them to return to Fiji where they have no home and family able to care for her.

Despite pleas to the government to intervene, the department says she must leave tomorrow.

Mrs Kishore and her family are devastated. ”We don’t have anywhere to go,” she said yesterday.

NBN costs Australian taxpayers

24 times South Korea at one tenth

the speed: report says @ $40billion

February 9, 2011 – 2:29PM
Speed, coverage and public-funding comparison (per covered household).Speed, coverage and public-funding comparison (per covered household). Photo: ECU

Australia’s national broadband network will cost taxpayers 24 times as much as South Korea’s but deliver services at just one-tenth the speed, new research claims.

The opposition claimed the research vindicated its position that the NBN was a waste of public funds, while the government countered that comparing Australia to South Korea was “like comparing apples to oranges”.

The research from the Economist Intelligence Unit published today shows Australia is spending an estimated 7.6 per cent of annual government budget revenues on its broadband network.

“In South Korea, by comparison, the government is spending less than 1 per cent of annual budget revenues to realise its broadband goals, achieving targets by encouraging the private sector to invest in the country’s broadband future,” the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a statement.

However, the EIU report does not mention NBN Co’sannouncement last year that its network will also be capable of the same speeds as South Korea’s network. Shortly before the federal election, chief executive Mike Quigley announced the fibre network would be built to carry speeds of 1 gigabit per second in a bid to differentiate the project from the opposition’s broadband policy.

The opposition seized on the report, with its communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull saying that the Economist Intelligence Unit had “joined the long list of expert observers, both international and local, who are utterly dismayed by the reckless spending of the Gillard government on the NBN”.

“The study confirms, yet again, that this NBN project should be the subject of a rigorous cost benefit analysis by the Productivity Commission.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s spokeswoman said comparing Australia to Korea was “like comparing apples to oranges”.

“Investment in Australia’s road, rail, telecommunications and utility infrastructure faces vastly different factors than countries such as South Korea,” the spokeswoman said.

“We know that with Australia’s population density, there aren’t the incentives for the private sector to provide the universal high quality broadband infrastructure that all Australians need.”

Conroy’s spokeswoman also noted that Australia’s land mass was “over 7.6 million square kilometres compared with South Korea’s which is just over 100,000 square kilometres” and that Australia had a population density of “2.7 people per sq km compared with 487 people per sq km for South Korea”.

The report also claimed that while Australia’s network scored highly for setting an original target speed of 100Mbps, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and France planned to achieve similar targets with much lower public-sector funding.

The study reviewed more than 40 national government plans for broadband development. Australia scored 3.4 out of five on the index. It punished Australia for the “huge cost to the public sector of its broadband scheme”.

Other factors that worked against Australia were “limited private-sector involvement, heavy central-government intervention and the exclusion of state and municipal authorities from its plan”, the Economist Intelligence Unit said.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

Assange supporters bring down

Visa, MasterCard sites

December 9, 2010 – 8:31AM

A group of WikiLeaks supporters is claiming to have crashed credit card giant Visa’s website, hours after a similar attack on MasterCard.

The group, which calls itself Anonymous, claimed responsibility on a Twitter feed and elsewhere.

The two-pronged attack came as both companies stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks on Tuesday.

Access to both sites was intermittent this morning.

Do you know more? email us

Chatter on the bulletin board, a site frequented by Anonymous posters, suggested that online payment service PayPal might be the next target, or the New York Stock Exchange, or Twitter, which suspended the account used for the Anonymous operations. PayPal also suspended WikiLeaks’s accounts used to collect donations.

Visa acknowledged the cyber attack on its website and reassured cardholders that no customer data had been put at risk.

“Visa’s corporate website – – is currently experiencing heavier than normal traffic,” said the company in a statement. “The company is taking steps to restore the site to full operations within the next few hours.”

Visa said its processing network that handled cardholder transactions was functioning normally.

“Cardholders can continue to use their cards as they routinely would,” Visa said. “Account data is not at risk.”

Earlier, the Swedish prosecutor’s office came under cyber attack as WikiLeaks supporters vowed to retaliate for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Swedish prosecution authority, whose arrest order for Mr Assange over accusations of sexual offences led a British court to remand the 39-year-old in custody, said it had reported the online attack to police.

“Of course, it’s easy to think it has a connection with WikiLeaks but we can’t confirm that,” prosecution authority web editor Fredrik Berg told Reuters Television.

Assange supporters also went for the corporate website of credit card firm MasterCard in apparent retaliation for its blocking of donations to the WikiLeaks website.

“We are glad to tell you that is down and it’s confirmed!” said an entry on the ‘AnonOps’ Twitter feed of Anonymous, which says it fights against censorship and “copywrong”.

Mark Stephens, Mr Assange’s principal lawyer in London, denied that the WikiLeaks founder had ordered the cyber strikes. Mr Assange “did not give instructions to hack” the company websites, Stephens told Reuters.

‘Concentrated effort’

MasterCard said its systems had not been compromised by what it called “a concentrated effort to flood our corporate web site with traffic and slow access”.

“We are working to restore normal service levels,” the company said in a statement. “It is important to note that our systems have not been compromised and there is no impact on our cardholders’ ability to use their cards for secure transactions globally.”

Mr Assange spent the night in a British jail and will appear for a hearing on December 14.

Mr Assange, who has lived periodically in Sweden, was accused this year of sexual misconduct by two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers. The pair’s lawyer said their claims were not a politically motivated plot against Mr Assange.

“It has nothing to do with WikiLeaks or the CIA,” said lawyer Claes Borgstrom, whose website also came under cyber attack, according to officials.

Mr Assange has angered US authorities and triggered headlines worldwide by publishing the secret cables.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said the people who originally leaked the documents, not Mr Assange, were legally liable and the leaks raised questions over the “adequacy” of US security.

“Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network,” Rudd told Reuters in an interview.

“The Americans are responsible for that,” said Rudd, described in one leaked US cable as a “control freak”.

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley conceded that “the fundamental responsibility for the leak rests inside the US government where we believe a crime has been committed”.

“But just as clearly, what Julian Assange is doing by releasing these classified documents is putting real lives and real interests at risk,” Crowley said in an e-mail message.

Carry on

WikiLeaks vowed it would continue making public details of the confidential US cables. Only a fraction of them have been published so far.

Mr Assange has become the public face of WikiLeaks, hailed by supporters including campaigning Australian journalist John Pilger and British film maker Ken Loach as a defender of free speech, but he is now battling to clear his name.

Some supporters appear to want to help him. While most denial of service attacks involve botnets, programs that hijack computers and use them to target individual websites and bring them down, the current cyber attacks seem to be different.

“In this case… they seem to be using their own computers,” he said. Asked what that said about how many individuals might be involved: “Probably hundreds at the least, could be thousands,” said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer of Finnish software security firm F-Secure.

PayPal said it had acted at the behest of the US government.

“On November 27th, the State Department, the US government basically, wrote a letter saying that the WikiLeaks activities were deemed illegal in the United States and as a result our policy group had to make the decision of suspending the account,” Osama Bedier, PayPal’s vice president of platform and emerging technology, told a conference in Paris.

Swiss PostFinance, the banking arm of state-owned Swiss Post, which also closed a WikiLeaks donation account, said it had taken countermeasures and an earlier wave of cyber attacks appeared to be waning.

“The community around Julian Assange have said ‘we’re leaving it now, we’ve shown what we can do,'” PostFinance spokesman Alex Josty said.

New revelations continue

The latest cables, reported in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi made threats to cut trade with Britain and warned of “enormous repercussions” if the Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing died in a Scottish jail. He was freed in August 2009.

WikiLeaks also released cables on Wednesday that showed Saudi Arabia proposed an “Arab army” be deployed in Lebanon, with US air and naval cover, to stop Shi’ite Hezbollah militia after it seized control of parts of Beirut in 2008.

Like many of the cables, the disclosures give an insight into diplomacy which is normally screened from public view.

The original source of the leaked cables is not known, though a US army private, Bradley Manning, who worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, has been charged by military authorities with unauthorized downloading of more than 150,000 State Department cables.

US officials have declined to say whether those cables are the same ones now being released by WikiLeaks.

Reuters with AP and Chris Zappone, BusinessDay

Received & published by Henry Sapiecha