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Cyberspace: new frontier in conflicts

Internet attacks on Georgia expose a key flaw for more than 100 nations.

SOURCES: New Scientist, AFP

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As Georgian troops retreated to defend their capital from Russian attack, the websites of their government, also under fire, retreated to Google.

In an Internet first, Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reopened its site on Google's free Blogger network and gave reporters a Gmail address to reach the National Security Council.

The attacks have deluged the websites of the president, various ministries, and news agencies with bogus traffic. The jam not only shut down those sites but also clogged Georgia's Internet access, exposing its reliance on Russian Internet pipelines.

Some in the cybersecurity community say this may be nothing more than grass-roots "hactivism," which usually springs up during international confrontations. Others, however, warn that the attack highlights the leverage some countries have gained over adversaries by laying down fiber-optic cables and providing cheap Internet services.

"The lesson here for Washington is that any modern conflict will include a cyberwarfare component, simply because it's too inexpensive to be passed up," says Bill Woodcock, research director at Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit Internet research institute in San Francisco. "The best [defensive] strategy is always preparedness. We've spent eight years completely ignoring that, while the Chinese and Indian governments have been paying really close attention and investing many tens of billions of dollars."

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