DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Organizers of a controversial global conference tasked with deciding the future of Internet regulation said today they are "bracing" for cyber attacks as the meeting passes its halfway point.
Paul Coneally, spokesman for the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the organization that is hosting the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), told ABC News that the temporary outage the WCIT website suffered Thursday could just be the beginning of a series of online attacks.
"There were a lot of people claiming victory for that in the moments after it happened," Coneally said. Coneally said his group is "bracing" itself for another attack Saturday that he said had been advertised online.
Coneally would not say who he believed was behind Thursday's attack but said it was "ironic that people championing transparency don't give you their name."
The conference was organized to review who controls telecommunications internationally. The Internet is one area it covers.
The loose hackivist collective Anonymous is protesting some of the more restrictive proposals made at the conference and its general organization, but in what appears to be a well-coordinated and widely distributed campaign, they do not call on their followers to conduct cyber attacks, only to pressure the WCIT to keep the Internet open. Still, several Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous tweeted about the website outage and at least one is advertising a "Global Day of Protest" for Saturday.
"If the delicate balance of the Internet is upset, it could have grave consequences for business and human rights," says a message, purported to be from Anonymous, that has widely circulated online. "This must be stopped."
The close of business today marks the halfway point in the WCIT conference, held in a massive warehouse at the Dubai World Trade Center in the United Arab Emirates. More than 2,000 people representing over 170 countries have gathered to update a telecommunications treaty that was last negotiated in 1988 - a time when most people had only started hearing whispers of the Internet.
In an unusual twist, part of Anonymous' argument appears to line up squarely with that of a historic foe, the United States government, which is proposing the revised treaty should have no impact on the way the Internet is already run. Some other governments disagree. Russia, for instance, has proposed the treaty be extended to cover the Internet so that governments can "regulate the national Internet segment" and ensure universal cyber security, according to a leaked version of Russia's proposal posted online.
After a week of debating, Ambassador Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation to the WCIT, said the two sides are still locked and the U.S. isn't budging.
"We're resolute on these issues," Kramer told ABC News today, "On whether the Internet gets governed or not. Fundamental… Are we going to allow cyber security to be mandated so that governments have to do certain things? We're not going to allow that."
Critics have also taken issue with the way the WCIT is structured. Though delegations are free to include whomever they want and private organizations are allowed to attend, voting rights only go to each country.
As one Anonymous-linked Twitter user said, "A few old ladies [and] gentlemen are flying to Dubai to protect us from the Internet."
Two self-identified members of Anonymous did not responded to tweets asking for comment on Thursday's website disruption.