Hackers hit UN conference debating future internet governance

A suspected hacking attack has hit the Dubai UN meeting to discuss telecoms regulations that could alter the way the internet is governed

A suspected hacking attack has hit a UN agency meeting in Dubai at which delegates are discussing new telecommunications controls that could alter the way the internet is governed.

Among other groups, European MPs have voiced concerns that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of the UN could get control of the internet through the revising telecoms regulations.

The UN agency is updating its International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), but some member states fear it will lead to centralised control of the internet by the UN.

Just three days after the WCIT began on 3 December, the event's website was forced offline, preventing delegates from accessing conference information.

WCIT organisers said hacker groups had claimed responsibility for taking the website offline for about two hours, according to the BBC.

ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure criticised those responsible for the downtime, the report said.

"It is ironic that the very people who claim to be fighting for a free internet are preventing those around the world trying to follow the event online from getting access," Toure said.

In the run-up to the conference, several groups – including European MPs, the US conference delegation and internet firm Google – have said the UN should not be allowed to take over control of the internet.

Concerns were raised by reports that Russia and its allies want control of key internet systems passed to the ITU, instead of US-based groups such as Icann, which regulates the web address system.

More recently, concerns have been raised around the approval of a new standard for deep packet inspection by a meeting last month of the World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly.

The technique is used by telecom operators to get an overview of network traffic issues, but it can also be used to spy on individual customers to see which websites they visit and how much data they use.

The Center for Democracy & Technology said the telecommunications standards arm of the UN has quietly endorsed the standardisation of technologies that could give governments and companies the ability to sift through all of an internet user's traffic.

"The move suggests that some governments hope for a world where even encrypted communications may not be safe from prying eyes," the Center for Democracy & Technology said.

Delegates to the WCIT have until 14 December 2012 to agree which of the more than 900 proposed changes to the ITRs to adopt.

The ITU has highlighted the importance of proposals to block spam messages, cut mobile roaming fees and prioritise emergency calls.

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