WEF Web site down, DoS attack possible

The exclusive World Economic Forum (WEF) had planned to share highlights and live session broadcasts of its annual meeting with the public through its Web site, but that site was down for several days.

“We don’t know what’s causing the site problems. Your guess is as good as ours,” said WEF director of communications Charles McLean, in a phone interview Friday. High traffic is a likely cause, he said, but the WEF isn’t sure whether traffic spikes are coming from reporters and the public or from protestors deliberately hitting the site in a denial of service (DoS) attack.

A group called the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) had been trying to arrange a DoS attack on the WEF site, encouraging visitors to its own Web site to download a “virtual sit-in tool” to flood the WEF site with traffic. The group, in conjunction with anticorporate activist group RTMark, is protesting corporate globalization and what it sees as a business-backed erosion of human rights and environmental protections.

“LOOKS LIKE THE WEF IS DOWN … WEEE!!!” reads a message currently posted on the Electronic Disturbance Theater’s Web site.

Based on traffic reports logging the number of unique visitors to the EDT Web site Wednesday and Thursday, the group estimates that around 100,000 people from around the world are participating in its protest, according to EDT co-founder Ricardo Dominguez. That number probably isn’t enough to crash the WEF site, he said.

“I think that something else happened to the WEF URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or, perhaps, the WEF infrastructure is as badly built as the WEF’s economic vision during the last 31 years,” Dominguez said via e-mail.

More than 81,000 unique visitors — including 49 from U.S. military domains — hit the EDT’s protest Web site Thursday, Dominguez said; around 43,000 of those visitors downloaded the program to flood the WEF site. The day before the WEF meeting opened, 39,349 unique visitors hit the protest site.

Several Web sites are mirroring the EDT’s site and virtual sit-in program, potentially adding several thousand more users to the pool of protestors, Dominguez said.

Getting the WEF Web site working again is “not exactly a top priority,” McLean said. “We’re putting on a very complex and huge meeting here in New York, and our focus is not the Web site. We want to get it up again, but we only have so much in the way of human resources.”

Web broadcasts of the sessions that were intended to be broadcast live will still be posted on the Web site when it is resurrected, according to conference officials.

Disruption of a main source of conference photos for media use is one problem caused by the Web site crash. WEF officials refused to accredit most photographers seeking access to the annual meeting, encouraging news outlets to instead use official conference photos posted on the Web site. There is no source for those photos other than the WEF Web site, press officers said Friday.

Reporters can use photos from a press photography pool granted access to the meeting, McLean said. Plans for that pool were in place before the Web problems, he said.

The WEF has been the victim of computer attacks before. Credit card numbers and other personal information on thousands of WEF participants were stolen from the WEF Web site in February 2001. Police arrested a 20-year-old Swiss citizen later that month and charged him with the crime, according to press reports.

In related WEF meeting news, Oracle Corp. hairman and CEO Larry Ellison did not make a scheduled appearance Friday afternoon as part of a panel discussion on balancing civil liberties and public safety. No explanation for his absence was immediately forthcoming. Ellison was also scheduled to appear Friday in a session on how the concept of vulnerability has changed in the current business and political climate.

The World Economic Forum, located in Geneva, Switzerland, is at http://www.weforum.org/. Its meeting in New York continues through Monday.

Electronic Disturbance Theater is at http://www.thing.net/~rdom/ecd/ecd.html.

The EDT’s protest Web site is at http://www.thing.net/~rdom/ecd/fools.html.