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Afghan war violence up 40 per cent: UN Violent incidents in the Afghan war have increased by nearly 40 percent over last year, according to UN figures released Wednesday. The figures showed total security incidents averaging 2,108 a month in the first eight months of 2011, up 39 percent on the same period in 2010. Two thirds of the activity was focused on the southern and southeastern regions, particularly the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar and its surrounds. A report to the UN Security Council shows that despite US-led efforts to protect ordinary people, the number of civilians killed over the summer rose five percent compared to the same period in 2010. From June to August, the UN’s mission in Afghanistan documented 971 civilian deaths, with three quarters attributed to insurgent violence and 12 percent blamed on NATO’s US-led forces. The rest could not be attributed. Recent multi-pronged attacks in Kabul and high-profile political assassinations over the summer have fed perceptions that after 10 years at war, the West’s war effort is losing a grip on the Taliban’s bid to return to power. The average number of suicide attacks each month was unchanged, but complex suicide attacks made up a greater proportion of the violence, with three such attacks each month in 2011, a 50 percent rise on the same period in 2010. “In the context of overall intensified fighting” the report said the rise in violent attacks was mostly due to the use of Taliban bombs and suicide attacks. Air strikes were the leading cause of civilian deaths by pro-government forces, but the number of those killed through ground combat and armed clashes increased 84 percent on the same time period in 2010. The deaths of ordinary people in NATO’s counterinsurgency campaign has long-been a thorny issue for the alliance, with President Hamid Karzai making public rebukes over controversial strikes. The relentless rise in the scale of killing comes as gradual withdrawals of foreign troops begin with the removal of some of the 33,000 US “surge” troops sent in to turn around the war that began in 2001 with a US-led invasion. The UN in June reported that civilian deaths in the first half of the year were up 15 percent, putting 2011 on track to be the deadliest in the long war. Some 130,000 people have been displaced from January 1 until the end of July, the latest report said, an increase of two-thirds on a year before. However, in brighter news for government efforts to eradicate opium crops that generate funds for much of the Taliban’s efforts, the UN and Ministry of Counter Narcotics reported a 65 percent increase in poppy eradication in 2010.

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Lady Gaga fans swamp Amazon for new album Fans of Lady Gaga swamped Amazon. com’s music service to get digitized copies of the pop provocateur’s new album for just 99 cents. Within hours of putting out word that “Born This Way” was available for 99 cents for one day only at Amazon’s Cloud Drive music service, the online retail giant was struggling to catch up with demand. “We’re currently experiencing very high volume,” Amazon said in a message fired off at its official “MP3” account at microblogging service Twitter. “If you order today, you will get the full @ladygaga album for $.99,” the message promised while its music downloads hit delays at the company’s overwhelmed computers. “Thanks for your patience.” Making the hot release available at less than a tenth of the album’s price at Apple online shop iTunes was intended to harden Cloud Drive’s position in the market ahead of the expected debut of a similar music service by Apple. Amazon launched Cloud Drive in late March as a service allowing people to store music on the company’s computers and then listen to tunes on any Internet linked gadgets. Sluggish or delayed downloads at Cloud Drive frustrated some Lady Gaga fans. “Reminds me why I usually use iTunes,” Twitter user Martin Dittman said in a terse reply to the AmazonMP3 tweet. Other feedback was more adoring, with Twitter user “filmfanatic24” marveling at being able to get the album at such a low price and telling Amazon “I love you for it.” Lady Gaga unveiled her second full-length album this week, three years after taking the music world by storm. True to her social media-friendly form, the 25-year-old has released “Born this Way” in unconventional style by posting some songs on online social game Farmville ahead of Monday’s launch, as well as other singles already issued. The title track was released in February, shortly before Gaga — real name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta — caused a sensation by turning up inside a giant translucent egg at the music industry’s annual Grammys awards show. She also raised eyebrows this weekend when, during a television performance of the song on Saturday Night Live, she simulated giving birth as the finale to the song, surrounded by her writhing dancers.

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Deadly clashes continue in Cairo US secretary of State Hillary Clinton has slammed Egypt’s ‘shocking’ treatment of women as Egyptian security forces clashed with protesters for a fourth straight day and the death toll rose to 12. Two people were killed in dawn fighting in Cairo’s administrative heart as security forces swooped to remove the protesters, health ministry sources said. The clashes quickly subsided before several hundred people turned out in Tahrir Square — the epicentre of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak — for the funeral of a protester killed in the violence. But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took power in February denied it had given orders to use force against protesters and said a plot had been uncovered to burn down parliament. SCAF General Adel Emara, interrupting a live news conference, said he had “received a call now to say that a plot was uncovered today to burn parliament and there are now large crowds in Tahrir Square ready to implement the plan.” AFP reporters in Tahrir said there were no signs of tension there or on the square’s outskirts, where a historic building containing national archives was destroyed and protesters were trying to save any surviving documents. Emara said the army “does not use force against protesters” but qualified those in Tahrir as “people seeking to destroy the state… not the honourable people of the January 25 revolution.” But Emara did admit troops had beaten a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes to reveal her bra, sparking nationwide outrage. In the picture and YouTube footage of the incident, the woman is sprawled on the ground, helmeted troops towering over her. One is seen kicking her, and later she appears unconscious, her stomach bared and her bra showing. “Yes, this happened. But you have to look at the circumstances around (the incident),” Emara told reporters. “We are investigating it, we have nothing to hide,” he said. The comments came as rights groups and dissidents slammed retired army general Abdelmoneim Kato — an adviser to the military — for saying some in Tahrir were “street kids who deserve to be thrown into Hitler’s incinerators.” Presidential hopeful and former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said such statements showed “a deranged and criminal state of mind.” The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information denounced Kato’s comments, saying they “incite hatred and justify violence against citizens.” Footage on social media networks of military police beating protesters, sometimes leaving them motionless on the ground, has caused nationwide outrage. A group of newly elected parliamentarians on Monday announced a sit-in outside the Cairo Supreme Court, demanding an immediate end to the violence against protesters and an investigation. By Monday afternoon, protesters and police hurled rocks and stones at each other over a wall erected by the army in a large boulevard off Tahrir Square. The violence drew international criticism. CLINTON BLASTS ‘SHOCKING’ TREATMENT OF WOMEN US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday denounced Egypt’s treatment of women as “shocking” and a “disgrace” to the state after troops were shown ripping off a female protester’s clothes. In unusually strong remarks, Clinton accused Egyptian authorities of failing the country’s women since the revolution that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak, both by excluding them from power and humiliating them in the streets. “Recent events in Egypt have been particularly shocking. Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Clinton said. “This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people,” Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University about the role of women. In images widely seen over YouTube, helmeted troops were seen beating a veiled woman after having ripped her clothes off to reveal her bra and stomach. ‘EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE’ UN leader Ban Ki-moon accused Egyptian security forces of using “excessive” violence against protesters. Ban is “very concerned by the resurgence of violence,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged “Egyptian security forces to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the violence in Cairo was “inconsistent with the democratic process in which Egypt is now engaged.” And rights watchdog Amnesty International urged arms suppliers to halt transfers to Egyptian forces. “It can no longer be considered acceptable to supply the Egyptian army with the types of weaponry, munitions and other equipment that are being used to help carry out the brutal acts we have seen used against protesters,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. A health ministry source said two people were killed on Monday, bringing the death toll from four days of fighting to 12. In the early morning raid on Tahrir and its outskirts, demonstrators held their ground and several dozens milled about the square, brandishing banners denouncing the SCAF, AFP correspondents said. One man held up a bloodied white shirt, which had reportedly been worn by the person killed at dawn. Security forces built another cement wall on a street adjacent to Tahrir near the Institute of Egypt, the historic building housing priceless archives, many of which were destroyed in the latest violence when it was burned. The institute for the advancement of scientific research was founded in 1798 during Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt, and contained more than 200,000 precious documents. The French foreign ministry demanded a thorough investigation into the blaze of what was considered Egypt’s richest library, describing it as “a tragedy for world cultural heritage.” The street battles that erupted on Friday raged outside the parliament building and the headquarters of the government. The violence overshadowed the count in the first post-revolution vote that shows Islamists in the lead. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party said it won 39 percent of votes in party lists, while the Al-Nur party — which represents the hardline brand of Salafi Islam — claimed more than 30 percent. The military, which took power when Mubarak was ousted, has decided on a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists, that will make up two thirds of the lower house of parliament, and for individual candidates for the remaining third.

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NSW government defends debate choke The NSW government has defended its decision to choke off debate in the state’s upper house, accusing filibustering Green and Labor MPs of an abuse of parliament and wasting taxpayers’ money. The government invoked a provision that has not been used in more than a century to guillotine the debate on its public sector wage reforms, which began on Wednesday and has dragged on into the weekend. On resumption of debate on Saturday morning, the government exercised standing order 99, which has not been used since 1906, to end the filibuster and force the bill into the committee stage. The upper house will now debate amendments to the government’s industrial relations changes, which controversially strips the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) of its power to set public sector wages. Nationals MP and Roads Minister Duncan Gay said debate on the bill had dragged on for 29 hours – an abuse of parliament and a waste of taxpayers’ money. “This is an extraordinary abuse of the parliamentary process,” Mr Gay said in a statement. “The Greens and the opposition have cost the taxpayers of NSW more than $300,000 by forcing it to sit into the early hours of the morning. “The government was willing to give everyone reasonable time to speak, but would not allow the house to descend into farce which is exactly what has happened.” Outraged Labor and Greens MPs yelled abuse across the chamber when the government signalled its intention to use its power to gag the debate. It won a division in the house by 20 votes to 17. In a brief debate that followed the vote, Labor and Greens MPs lined up to condemn the government for shutting down the debate. Labor MP Amanda Fazio accused government MPs in the house of “throwing out over a century of tradition in this house”. “They are now so spineless and so lacking in courage … that they do not want to have full and open scrutiny and a full debate,” she said. The marathon filibuster saw debate stretch late into the night on Thursday and Friday. Greens MP David Shoebridge on Thursday spoke for five hours and 58 minutes to smash the previous record for the longest continuous speech in the upper house, set in 1991. Labor and the Greens have been calling on the government to adjourn the debate until the next sitting day, on June 14, to allow public debate on a bill which will impact on more than 300,000 workers. The government is now seeking a vote to restrict debate in the committee stage, with Finance Minister Greg Pearce saying Labor had handed him 152 amendments. The bill is expected to eventually be passed by the upper house, with the support of cross bench MPs from the Shooters Party and Christian Democrats.

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Five more dead found on Costa Concordia The captain of wrecked Italian cruise liner the Costa Concordia has denied he abandoned ship despite audio evidence, as rescue divers found another five bodies, bringing the death toll to 11. A dramatic coastguard recording of ship-to-shore communications as the disaster unfolded showed that captain Francesco Schettino ignored an order to return to the vessel after it hit rocks and pitched on to its side on Friday. But Schettino, who was questioned by Italian prosecutors, denied he had left the Costa Concordia and said he had saved many lives as the boat was going down near the picturesque Tuscan island of Giglio. “The captain defended his role on the direction of the ship after the collision, which in the captain’s opinion saved hundreds if not thousands of lives,” his lawyer Bruno Leporatti said. “The captain specified that he did not abandon ship.” According to investigators, the flooded engine rooms would have made it impossible for Schettino to navigate the 114,500 tonne ship, which drifted closer to the tiny port on Giglio before capsizing. Schettino, 52, is accused by prosecutors of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship before all the passengers were rescued. He is in custody awaiting trial but his lawyers said he will be released from prison and put under house arrest. “Get back on board now, for f***’s sake… You must tell us how many people, children, women and passengers are there,” an increasingly strident port official tells Schettino, according to the Livorno port authority recording. “What are you doing? Are you abandoning the rescue?” the official asks. A judge is due to rule at 1900 GMT on a prosection request to deny bail to Schettino, who was arrested along with his first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, on Saturday. The grilling of Schettino came as the bodies of another five people were discovered after the Italian navy used explosives to blow seven holes in the upturned hull of the Costa Concordia, bringing the death toll to 11. About two dozen people are still missing. “The five victims are a woman and four men, who could be passengers but we are not sure, they are between 50 and 60 years old,” said coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini. He said the victims had been wearing life jackets when found. Earlier, officials had said that 12 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian were still unaccounted for. There were also reports of a missing five-year-old Italian girl. The dead identified so far include two French passengers, an Italian and a Spaniard and one Peruvian crew member. About 4,200 people were on board when the ship went down shortly after it had left a port near Rome at the start of a seven-day Mediterranean cruise, and survivors have spoken of scenes of chaos, confusion and panic on board. The Italian press reported Tuesday that as the vessel began to keel over, the crew initiated the evacuation procedure themselves — 15 minutes before Schettino eventually gave the command. But in his meeting with prosecutors, “the captain explained his behaviour, his decision, his choices during that phase of emergency”, the lawyer Leporatti told reporters outside the court in the provincial capital Grossetto. “There is no need for him to be in detention,” he added. Asked what caused the disaster, Leporatti replied: “He found a rock along his route.” Schettino has been widely criticised after reports emerged that he ordered an unauthorised sail-by close to the island, which was not on the cruise’s itinerary, to please a local crew member. “It was bravado, Schettino was showing off, clowning around, it was incredibly stupid. I would sentence him not once but 10 times,” said a former captain who worked with the ship’s owner, Costa Crociere. Costa Crociere, Europe’s largest cruise operator, said Monday that the accident occurred as a result of an “inexplicable” error by the captain and distanced themselves from the actions of their employee. A group of more than 70 Italian passengers have joined a class action suit against the owner, consumer rights association Codacons said Tuesday. Mario Palombo, a former captain of the doomed Costa Concordia with whom Schettino served as first mate for four years, told investigators that he was “too high-spirited and a dare devil”. As fears rose of an environmental disaster if the ship’s fuel tanks rupture and leak, Marini said crews had laid down absorbent booms after noticing “an iridescence” in the water off Giglio, a marine sanctuary and popular holiday spot. Forecasts say a storm is expected to lash the rocky island on Thursday, prompting concerns that the semi-submerged ship could sink entirely. Local officials are calling for strict curbs in the future on shipping routes in an area of outstanding natural beauty and the government is expected to declare a state of emergency there later this week. Dutch salvage company Smit began assessing the site on Tuesday and plans to begin pumping out the fuel from the Concordia’s tanks this week, although it said the operation would take at least three weeks. Officials said the giant ship itself could then be taken off Giglio in an unprecedented operation using massive floats.

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Lawyers blame Mubarak, police for deaths The ailing, 83-year-old Mubarak lay on a stretcher in the defendants’ cage at the trial in which the prosecution has called for him to be hanged for the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in the January-February 2011 revolt. Sameh Ashour, lead counsel for victims’ families in the Cairo trial, submitted official documents which he said showed that 160 police officers had been armed with automatic weapons and 4,800 live rounds. The lawyer also showed a report from the Central Security Forces that four units, each made up of 50 policemen, had been supplied with automatic weapons and ammunition. A speech by Mubarak on January 28, three days after the outbreak of the unrest, amounted to “implicit recognition of the use of force against demonstrators,” according to Ashour. Mubarak said he had given instructions for police “to protect the demonstrations… before they turn into riots.” Lawyers for civil plaintiffs have until Tuesday to present their case before the defence takes its turn, after the prosecution last week urged the court to sentence the fallen strongman to hang. “The law punishes premeditated murder with execution. The prosecution demands the maximum punishment,” Mustafa Khater told the presiding judge, Ahmed Refaat. Mubarak, detained in a military hospital where he is being treated for a heart condition, is on trial along with seven former security chiefs. The defence is to argue their innocence. Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman told the court that Mubarak must have ordered police to open fire on protesters during the 18-day uprising that ended his three-decade rule on February 11, leaving more than 850 dead. Essam el-Batawy, a defence lawyer, told AFP the prosecution’s closing arguments were based, in part, on statements from witnesses they had questioned during their investigation who had not taken the stand. “They used partial quotes from their testimony,” he said. “We will insist on listening to these witnesses in court,” saying they will be called to testify. Mubarak went to trial on August 3, after protesters stepped up demonstrations calling on the ruling military to try him and other former regime officials. None of the police witnesses summoned by the prosecution has directly implicated Mubarak. The country’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades, testified behind closed doors, but lawyers said he did not incriminate the ousted leader.

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Quebec to start emissions trading The province of Quebec has announced it will start a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system in 2012, days after Canada became the only country to ratify and then withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Starting in January, emitters in Quebec will be able to buy and sell greenhouse gas emission allowances on a local market during an initial trial run that could eventually lead to a continental cap and trade system, said a statement. The following year caps will be imposed on 75 big industrial polluters in the Canadian province whose annual carbon dioxide emissions exceed 24,999 tons of CO2 equivalent. And in 2015, fuel distributors and importers who exceed the annual threshold will also be subject to the capping. “Quebec thus officially steps to the starting line, next to California,” Quebec Environment Minister Pierre Arcand said in a statement, pointing to the US state’s similar plan for a carbon market. Both are based on regulations established under the Western Climate Initiative – a collaboration of 11 US states and Canadian provinces to curb emissions of the gases blamed for damaging Earth’s fragile climate. The initiative was launched in 2007 amid frustrations with Ottawa and Washington’s inaction on climate change. However, only California, Quebec and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba remain committed to a cap-and-trade system as part of the group’s efforts to cut regional CO2 emissions. The second step in Quebec’s program is to reach agreements with those four WCI partners to link their respective cap and trade systems together. Quebec is Canada’s second most populated province with eight million mostly French-speaking residents. It set an emissions reduction target for itself of 20 per cent by 2020 based on 1990 levels despite Canada’s withdrawal this week from the Kyoto Protocol, the only global treaty that sets down targeted curbs in global emissions. Canada agreed under 1997 protocol to reduce CO2 emissions to 6.0 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, but its emissions have instead increased sharply. Pulling out of Kyoto now allows Canada to avoid paying penalties of up to $C14 billion ($A13.7 billion) for missing its targets. Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent on Monday also cited major impacts on Canada’s economy that will be avoided by withdrawing from the treaty. Quebec’s move was harshly criticised by local businesses but was welcomed by environmentalist activists.

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Andy Schleck wins stage 18 France in spectacular fashion on Thursday when a bold attack earned him an impressive win in the 18th stage. The Luxembourg rider, runner-up in the last two editions of the Tour, jumped from the pack in the penultimate climb of the stage, a 200.5-km effort from Pinerolo, Italy. The Leopard-Trek rider took the day’s laurels ahead of his brother Frank, who finished 2:07 behind, according to provisional results. Australian Cadel Evans finished third eight seconds further back as he managed to salvage his chances thanks to a terrific effort in the final ascent that dealt a fatal blow to Spain’s three-times champion Alberto Contador. France’s Thomas Voeckler retained the yellow jersey as he ended the stage in fifth place and leads Andy Schleck by 15 seconds with two competitive stages left. Frank Schleck lies third 1:08 off the pace with Evans in fourth place four seconds further back. Schleck attacked with 60 km left in the ascent to the Col d’Izoard, building a three-minute lead over the favourites’ group after joining a few breakaway riders. With the help of team mate Maxime Monfort, Schleck’s lead grew to 3:45 in the valley leading to the foot of the Col du Galibier, despite strong headwinds. The gap increased to 4:30 in the first slopes of the 22.8-km ascent to the Col du Galibier at an average gradient of 4.9 percent. Contador, who suffered from knee pains again, was unable to up the pace in the final climb as the favourites played a waiting game that cost them dearly. Evans finally decided to take the matter into his own hands as he accelerated with nine kilometres remaining. Schleck’s lead dropped but an exhausted Contador eventually crossed the line with a 3:49 deficit.

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‘Considerable’ risks to Spain economy: IMF The IMF warns of ‘considerable’ risks to Spain’s battered economy, saying the authorities had responded robustly to the serious challenges but repairs were incomplete. Spain faced grave economic risks if it failed to crack down harder on spending, shake up the financial sector and loosen up the labour market, the International Monetary Fund said. The Fund issued the warning two days after about 200,000 Spaniards took the streets to protest austerity measures and unemployment, and as markets showed deep concern about euro zone sovereign debt strains. “The repair of the economy is incomplete and the risks are considerable,” the Washington-based IMF said in a report summarising a review of Spain’s economy by its analysts. “Downside risks dominate,” it said. In the short term, investor fears about sovereign risk in the euro zone could grow, raising the costs for Spain to borrow money from the financial markets, it said. In the medium term, Spain risked a long, slow recovery and stubbornly high unemployment. “In this scenario, domestic headwinds could intensify, creating a downward cycle of falling house prices, slower bank balance sheet repair, and faster household and corporate deleveraging. Combined with potentially unresponsive labor costs, this could undermine employment growth.” Spain’s economic crisis, triggered by the 2008 property bubble collapse and the international financial crisis, sent the unemployment rate soaring to 21.29 percent in the first quarter of 2011. The government and central bank had pushed through a “strong and wide-ranging policy response” over the past year, helping to rebalance the economy, the IMF said. Spain managed to cut the annual public deficit from 11.1 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 to 9.2 percent of GDP in 2010, the Fund noted. But Madrid would likely have to take “additional measures” to meet its medium-term targets of cutting deficits further, and eventually dipping below the European Union’s agreed 3.0-percent ceiling. The IMF said its own forecasts for growth of 1.5-2.0 percent in the medium term were less optimistic than Spain’s, meaning the authorities would have to find an extra two percent of GDP in savings through 2014. Spain’s government agreed on June 10 to back a bill loosening up the collective bargaining system, part of a slew of hotly debated labour reforms that include cutting the cost of firing workers. The government has also enacted measures to strengthen bank balance sheets, cut state spending, raise the retirement age and sell off state assets including the national lottery.

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Cyber security and the online arms race: the battle has just begun Published in collaboration with The Conversation, a website that features commentary, research and analysis from Australian universities and the CSIRO. Cyber security has been in the news a lot lately. Corporate giants have had their data stolen, intelligence agencies have had their websites taken down and hacker groups have become household names. Closer to home, an Australian web hosting company distribute.IT confirmed yesterday that a June 11 hack of its servers had rendered the data of almost 5,000 clients “unrecoverable”. The recent spike in online criminal activity has led some industry players to call for significant overhaul to Australia’s cyber security laws and, indeed, the Federal Government has taken steps down that path. All of this raises a particularly pertinent question: is the threat of online attack inevitable, or is there a way to make the internet an inherently safer place to work, play and shop? SECURITY GIANTS A recent public lecture delivered by Eugene Kaspersky – CEO and co-founder of one of the world’s largest anti-virus companies, Kaspsersky Lab – shed some light on this very subject. Kaspersky’s interest in anti-virus systems was triggered when his computer was infected by a virus way back in 1989. This computer virus stimulated his curiosity, and he started to compile a database of each new computer virus he encountered. This database of virus “signatures” became the basis for his first anti-virus software tool. In those early days of the internet, the author of the virus that infected Kaspersky’s computer was probably also motivated by curiosity – in this case, curiosity to see whether it was possible to write a program that could spread between computers, even without the owners of those computers knowing. While curiosity was a major driving force behind both the unknown author of the virus and Eugene Kaspsersky’s response, it’s clear that cyber security is no longer the domain of curious amateurs. SERIOUS BUSINESS Cyber crime is now a thriving industry driven by those within more traditional criminal circles and, according to Kaspsersky, the second most lucrative criminal activity behind the illegal drug trade. So just how do hackers make money? Well, consider the case of “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) attacks. In an attack of this kind, an online business or service is disabled by a flood of malicious requests via the internet. DDoS attacks can be used to: * Swamped an online betting agency with bogus transactions that overwhelm their servers, thus denying access to legitimate customers. * Blackmail online businesses by threatening to close down the business unless protection money is paid. * Disable online government services, as was the case in February of this year when Australian government websites were attacked. For DDoS attacks to be effective, attackers need to generate a high volume of malicious requests which means having a large number of computers at their disposal. Attackers can use computer viruses and other pieces of malicious software (or “malware”) to gain control of legitimate users’ computers. TANGLED WEB These infected computers (collectively known as a “botnet”) can then be used to launch large numbers of malicious requests in a DDoS attack at the attacker’s command. According to Kaspersky, recent botnet DDoS attacks have involved as many as ten million infected computers. (By way of contrast, “only” a one-million-machine botnet was needed to take down most of Estonia’s online infrastructure in 2007.) In response to these growing attacks, the network managers of online networks and services continually need to deploy higher-capacity servers and network links, together with filtering systems such as anti-virus software and network “firewalls”. While this approach to defence aims to protect the target of an attack, it does little to stop the attack at its source, namely, the infected computers. Indeed, all that has emerged is an online arms race in which attackers and defenders are always trying to up the ante. So, is there a silver bullet to network security that will defuse this arms race? CATCHING CYBER-CRIMINALS One possible approach suggested by Eugene Kaspersky (among others) is to trace where requests to access online services are coming from. In practical terms this might mean the introduction of some form of online identification – an internet passport, if you like. If a user was found to be engaging in questionable online behaviour – such as requesting the same page from a web server repeatedly in a short period of time – the user would need to produce their online identification in order to proceed. Such methods would make it easier to trace perpetrators of cyber crime and, ideally, discourage such behaviour in the first place. While better verification of the identity and reliability of users on the internet could help in the ongoing fight against cyber crime, it’s certainly not a silver bullet. This type of verification can itself become the target of a DDoS attack. Indeed, no single strategy has yet been proven effective in protecting the internet from the persistence of attackers, nor is a single solution likely to emerge. While the problem of cyber crime may never be completely eradicated, we can only hope that our efforts will someday raise defences to the point where it is uneconomic for attackers to continue with these types of attacks.

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