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A new system for tackling the growing number of Global Cyber Attacks has been unveiled at ITU Telecom World 2009, a mammoth exhibition, which showcases the latest advances in ICT or information and communications technology. The International Telecommunications Union, which is sponsoring the event, has put global cyber security at the heart of its agenda.

"As you well know, the next world war could happen in the cyber space and that would be a catastrophe," said ITU secretary-general, Hamdoun Toure.

He may sound overly dramatic, until one thinks back to what happened to the tiny Baltic country of Estonia. In 2007, for a period of two weeks Estonia's Web sites were hit by so many bogus requests for information that its sites crashed.

The Internet warfare broke out amid a furious row between Estonia and Russia over the removal of a Soviet war monument. While Russia may be considered a superpower, Hamdoun Toure says in a cyber war, there is no such thing as a superpower.

"Every citizen on this planet is a potential superpower and, it will be unfortunate if we have to fight the next fight in the cyber space," he said. "And, we know from the conventional wars today that the best way to win a war, any war, is to avoid it in the first place."

A couple of months after the cyber attack paralyzed Estonia's Internet, the ITU announced an ambitious two-year plan to curb cyber crime. As part of that effort, the ITU teamed up with a Malaysian company called IMPACT to come up with a system to help nations and their citizens prevent, defend and respond to cyber threats.

The result of this collaboration is the so-called Global Response Center, which is demonstrated here at Telecom by Technical Advisor for IMPACT, Mohammed Shihab.

"The Global Response Center has two functions," he said. "Function one is an early warning system. Now what an early warning system means is that all the global threat intelligence is brought to us on a near real time basis. We collate all this information and we let all member countries have access to this information."

The second function is called ESCAPE.

"Once you detect an attack, what you do is you access the ESCAPE part of the Global Response Center," said Shihab. "So from here, the analyst will be able to identify that if a country has raised a particular issue, you look at the network trends and then you look at the attack scenarios, find out where the concentration of these attacks are and then getting the experts to help a country solve these problems."

The ITU reports there are more than one billion Internet users in the world today. It says the number of crimes committed in cyber space is increasing at an alarming rate. And, it says, the cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated in their tactics.

ITU officials say the days of the teenage hacker accessing the Web sites belonging to the White House or Pentagon for fun are receding. They say billions of dollars can be made in cyber space. Criminal gangs know this and are going where the money is.