War In The Balkans: Enemies fight proxy battle in cyberspace

The Internet War
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The Independent Online
THE BALKANS have a long history of bitter wars, but this is the first one to be fought out in cyberspace. The allies may not be prepared, as yet, to commit ground forces, but they had no hesitation in sending in the Internet against Slobodan Milosevic. Web-sites set up by Nato and the British government were pronounced a great success in the propaganda campaign, with thousands of calls from Serbian surfers.

The counter-attack was swift, sneaky and showed the ruthlessness of the Yugoslav leader. His regime unleashed "germ warfare" against the Nato website, sending in a wave of macro viruses. Then came phase two of the operation, a specially manufactured programme which carpet bombed the site.

Last night the British site, set up by the Ministry of Defence, with help from the Foreign Office, was reportedly safe from the "mad hackers" of the "Butcher of Belgrade", as the tabloids may put it, and attracting ever increasing number of callers from former Yugoslavia.

The site, led by Richard Davies of the Defence Information Department, was originally set up last October. From the 1st to 20th March it received 1,024 calls. After airstrikes began the number climbed to 8,600 . In the 24 hours since it was translated into Serbo-Croat, 1,500 "hits" came in, 1,400 from former Yugoslavia.

Assessing the damage to the Nato service spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels: "Since the 28th March the service from our Internet home page has been erratic to say the least. We have looked at this very carefully and it seems that we have been dealing with some hackers in Belgrade who have hacked into our website and caused line saturation of the server by using `ping' bombardment strategy.

"It has also been saturated by one individual who is currently sending us 2,000 e-mails a day and we are dealing with macro viruses from Yugoslavia into our e-mail system."

One of the major Serbian sites is the home page of the Serbian Ministry of Information, which, among other things, contains reports on "Albanian terrorist activity". The Serbian Network has become a rallying point against Western figures such as Tony Blair, President Clinton and Robin Cook, who are photographed with the caption "Wanted - War Criminal" underneath.

Defence Secretary George Robertson said: "They tell lies about us. We will go on telling the truth about them and making sure that the unfortunate people of Yugoslavia have access to the truth... about Milosevic and his brutal repression."

Cliff Jones, group editor of news for AOL, one of the world's largest online service providers, said: "There are so many eye witness reports and people are clambering over each other with their websites, desperate to get them out. There is so much information that, at worst, it may be confusing, but at best it is the ultimate freedom of information."

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