Caucasus foes fight cyber war
Armed with computers, unseen ranks of hackers are fanning conflict in the Caucasus.
Internet users in Russia and Georgia have attacked vital websites in each other's countries, in a virtual echo of battles being fought on the ground by troops and tanks.
Several Georgian government portals have been defaced or forced offline by hackers allegedly based in Russia. Visitors to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's website were recently routed to a page portraying him as a modern-day Hitler.
Georgia's parliament and foreign ministry sites have also repeatedly been disabled, allegedly by attacks from networks of hijacked computers.
Hackers from Georgia have meanwhile been blamed for targeting the websites of Russian news outlets and the separatist government of South Ossetia, which Russia supports.
Bill Thompson, a technologycritic says: "Where extortion or fraud is involved, you can follow the money trail… But politically-motivated attacks are almost impossible to police".
Internet security experts say it was inevitable that a conflict fired by separatism in the Caucasus should spill into cyberspace.
The republics of the former Soviet Union are, along with China and Brazil, major centres of cyber-crime, according to Alex Shipp of the email security firm, MessageLabs.
While the Chinese specialise in industrial espionage and the Brazilians are adept at online financial fraud, Mr Shipp says Russian criminals dominate the market in online tools tailored for amateur hackers.
"Several Russian sites specialise in selling software that would-be cyber-criminals can download," he says.