At Davos, Hackers Were Just Half of It

This year's World Economic Forum was plagued by plenty of its own tech snafus

By Bruce Nussbaum

I've been hacked. I just received an e-mail from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, informing me that I was among the 1,400 participants at the recent Davos conference whose credit card -- and who knows what else -- was pilfered by antiglobalization hackers who breached the Swiss firewall. The e-mail said "URGENT and IMPORTANT" -- as if anything urgent might not be important.

About 3,200 top CEOs, world political leaders, and journalists attended the most recent Davos conference just a week ago, so the hackers made some inroads. I don't think they were after me particularly, since journalists, by and large, are considered small fry at Davos. But Bill Gates was there, along with Yahoo's Tim Koogle, Vivendi's Jean-Marie Messier, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Oprah Winfrey, Yasser Arafat, and lots more very important people.

No word yet on whether any of them were also victims of this hack. According to the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung, which broke the story, the hackers were able to obtain hotel accommodations, travel schedules, and Web-site passwords. That's scary.


  The hacking by the "antis" was just the latest in many high-tech misfortunes to befall the famous Davos conference this year. A state-of-the-art electronic-messaging system, built around dozens of kiosks placed in the conference center and at many hotels, was somehow hobbled. In the past, it was easy to contact anyone anytime. But the system was down much of the time at this year's conference.

Then there were all those Compaq iPacs given to the participants (See BW Online, 1/30/01, "A Handheld Wins Hands-Down at Davos"). These anti-Palm PDAs run on Windows software and were supposed to allow Davos people to talk to each other on the run via e-mail. But the software first had to connect through the defective kiosk system. Plus, it was hard to use -- especially compared to the Palm.

Really smart techies -- and Davos was full of them -- hacked into the iPac software and were able to get their e-mail via the Internet. So, the first hacking that took place in Davos was by the CEOs and managers of companies you can find on the Nasdaq. The hacking by the antis was a follow-on.

Nussbaum is BusinessWeek's editorial page editor

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht

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