Monday, July 05, 2004

Internet access from Macedonia threatened

Balkanalysis is not a reference of Dutch prime-minister Balkenende but a website that publishes independent interpretations of economics, politics and current events in the Balkans.

In a recent article it reported that
residents of Macedonia have been unable to access an ever-increasing number of American websites. Certain commercially compiled reports commonly purchased by American ISPs and hosting companies are warning that the country is a hotbed of internet fraud- and so, these companies are starting to block access to their sites for anyone with a Macedonian IP address.

While this appears to have been an entirely corporate initiative, political lobbying behind the scenes may also play a role. “The fact that Russia and Israel- 2 epicenters of internet fraud and hacking on a global scale- 500 zillion trillion times bigger offenders than little Macedonia- are off the list is incredible,” charges economist, author and internet expert Sam Vaknin. Yet these countries also have a much stronger political lobby within the United States than does the beleaguered Balkan state.

According to the latest research only 2% to 5% of the citizens in Macedonia use Internet. Only 26 from 100 citizens with computers are connecting to Internet.

How a tiny country having no more than 90,000 total internet users and a handful of internet companies can pose a threat to the stability of American commerce and American online companies is beyond comprehension.

Yet not only the reasoning behind the Macedonian blacklist is dubious- so are the methods being used. Why would a company trying to minimize fraud and security dangers block an entire country, through blocking IP addresses, when it is so easy for anyone with computer sense to “spoof” or “cloak” their IP, thus appearing to be out of the country? “This is idiotic!” laments Vaknin. “The only people this hurts are the innocent users- teenagers, housewives, college professors, etc. Any hacker or fraudster will be unaffected by these activities!”

The most disturbing part of the whole story, however, is the element of secrecy surrounding it. When Sam Vaknin first noticed the mysterious disappearance of certain websites, he wrote to the webmasters to ask what was wrong. In regard to one case – involving a well known mental health website - he makes the following devastating allegation:

“…they lied to me for a full month, telling me that the problem was due to my firewall settings. They lied to me knowing damn well that they had blocked the entire country. When I continued to press them, however, they admitted that they were following the recommendations of a commercially compiled blacklist. They were trying to keep it secret that US entities are blocking whole countries!”

Vaknin’s experience is being reported by others. A list one anonymous internet entrepreneur received this week from a large American ISP and hosting company apologized for the inclusion of Macedonia – as well as Bulgaria, Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania and Vietnam – in the current ranks of the banned, but concluded that “…we must take these measures.” Exactly why they must do so is not mentioned, however- leaving much room for fetid speculation.

Selective blocking of the free flow of commerce and site visitation may only be the first of many “security” restrictions to come.

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