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The German government this week published proposals to modernise the country's computer hacking laws.

The proposed update makes denial of service attacks and hacking assaults against individuals clearly criminal. Previously, only attacks against companies and government organisations were indictable offences.

Gaining access to data, without necessarily stealing information, would also become an arrestable offence. The measures would raise the maximum tarriff for computer hacking offences to 10 years imprisonment in the case of conviction for the most serious crimes.

In large part the proposals update existing laws, and bring German legislation in line with an EU resolution on information system attacks proposed in February 2005, heise reports.

Controversy has centered around a provision in the draft laws that would make it an offense to create or distribute "hacking tools", something of an ambiguous term. Critics point out that many of these tools are used by system administrators and security consultants quite legitimately to probe for vulnerabilities in corporate systems.

"White hats will not be able to get them [hacking tools] and use them internally for testing or external security consultants won't be able to do security testing," van Hauser, president of The Hacker's Choice, a non-commercial group of security experts told IDG. "It's a win-lose law in favour of the bad guys," he added.

The proposals are explained in a release by the German Justice ministry here and in greater detail here (PDF in German).

The proposed German changes in computer hacking law are similar to measures proposed in the UK's Police and Justice Bill, published by the government in January. As with Germany's draft legislation, security experts here took exception to plans to ban the development, ownership and distribution of so-called "hacker tools".

The distinctions between, for example, a password cracker and a password recovery tool, or a utility designed to run DOS attacks and one designed to stress-test a network, are not properly covered in the proposed legislation, critics say. ®

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