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Germany declares hacking tools 'verboten'

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Updates to Germany's computer crime laws banning so-called "hacking tools" have been criticised as ill-considered and counterproductive.

The revamp to the German criminal code is designed to tighten definitions, making denial of service attacks and attempts to sniff data on third-party wireless networks, for example, clearly criminal. Attacks would be punishable by a fine and up to 10 years imprisonment.

Previously, only attacks against companies and government organisations were indictable offences. The regulations, passed last week, also make it illegal for unauthorised users to bypass computer security protection to access secure data.

Under these provision it becomes an offense to create, use or distribute so-called "hacking tools". 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.

The distinctions between, for example, a password cracker and a password recovery tool, or a utility designed to run denial of service attacks and one designed to stress-test a network, are not properly covered in the legislation, critics argue. Taken as read, the law might even even make use of data recovery software to bypass file access permissions and gain access to deleted data potentially illegal.

"Forbidding this software is about as helpful as forbidding the sale and production of hammers because sometimes they also cause damage," Chaos Computer Club spokesman Andy Müller-Maguhn told Ars Technica. "Safety research can [now] take place only in an unacceptable legal gray area."

While making life more difficult for security consultants and sys admins, the new laws will, paradoxically, make it easier for police to use hacking tactics in gathering intelligence on suspects. The practice - declared verboten by German courts earlier this year - could be reinstated under the new laws, according to Müller-Maguhn. ®

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