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Online games spread virtual problems into the real world.

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CoNet Administrator
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The controversy over so-called "swatting," (a stupid name that only an idiot would come up with because it makes something heinous sound cuddly) was the first high-profile spill-over from a massive online computer game to the real world. Yesterday saw the second and it caused extraordinary disruption and expense to public services in the UK. It was launched from the USA.

We have to be honest and say that the facts in this story come from third party media, all of which are credited below. The comment, however, is all ours, as it should be.

Yesterday, some 400 schools across England and Wales were closed because they received e-mails containing bomb threats. According to Sky News (https://news.sky.com/story/sch...) the attack on the UK's state school system (in the UK, the term "public school" means something very different to its use in the USA, for example) arose out of a spat between players of the massive multi player online role-playing game (MMORPG in game-speak), Minecraft.

According to Sky, some 24,000 e-mails were sent to UK schools in retaliation against .. actually, we're not sure what it was in retaliation for: the explanation seems to petty, even juvenile, to be a reason for such behaviour. Read the article and see if you can make head or tail of the supposed justification. The only part that makes any sense to us is this: someone decided to try to take down a server that provides peripheral services to game-players by creating something that could be regarded as threatening terrorism (so the authorities took it down and/or security systems blocked it) or by a kind of reverse denial of service attack by which it was hoped that the server would be overloaded by irate recipients of the e-mail.

The Mirror (https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/...) says that schools in London, Yorkshire, Humberside, Northumberland, the West Midlands, Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, Bristol, Bedfordshire, Manchester and Liverpool were affected. According to The Mirror The threat email is believed to read: "This is a message to everyone. We have sent in a student with a bomb. The bomb is set to go off in 3 hours time. If you do sent $5,000 USD to payments@veltpvp.com "If you do not send the money! We will blow up the device. Our site has all the information needed. If you try to call the cops we WILL blowup the device on the SPOT! ANY attempt at defusing it your self will cause it to explode." It is then followed by Arabic writing.

That brings us to the comment: enormous public resources were brought to bear on the problem, to say nothing of huge disruption to large parts of the UK population whose children were sent away from hundreds of schools. People, particularly staff in schools who were the first to see the e-mails were put in fear, if not terror. The cost to the UK purse and private enterprise is, literally, incalculable and the psychological cost to both teachers and parents can never be assessed.

It is long-settled law that a person who shouts out "bomb" in a public place commits an offence. Secondly, in certain cases, that threat, can be regarded as an act amounting to terrorism. Sadly, whatever the motive of the person or persons that did this, politics or ideology wasn't it. They cannot, therefore, be considered terrorists, or rather they cannot in the UK. The US definitions (there are more than one) are more flexible and economic terrorism (although UK PM George Brown tried to extend the UK definition without regard to legislation) might fall within the scope. The content of the mail is clearly extortion: that is an offence on both sides of the Atlantic and if those who did this are identified, the UK would be able to seek extradition for trial in the UK. Also, the inclusion of Arabic writing, no matter what it says, in such a document is clearly designed to create division and harm and turns the entire document into hate speech.

One thing is certain: those who wrote and issued the e-mail and anyone who conspired with them or aided them must be identified and brought to trial on serious charges. They must not be allowed to plead down to minor offences: the effects of this conduct were equivalent to a widespread terrorist threat. The well being of the public and the public purse must be protected and that means, if they are convicted, serious sentences. Terrorism does not require an actual bomb, merely the threat is enough. The lack of the required second-stage motive (stage one is the intention to do the act, stage two is the reason for doing it) will prove challenging but surely the last intelligent and resourceful prosecutor has not yet left the UK's Crown Prosecution Service.

A lesson must be taught or cases like the horrendous swatting case where a man died and this where someone might have done will only grow in popularity amongst disaffected youth. The alternatives are too awful to contemplate.

One final parting thought: if this was a simple random attack on the spur of the moment, how did the perpetrators get, at no notice, e-mail addresses of 24,000 people in the UK education system? That, too, must be carefully investigated.

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