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'Wild West' internet needs a sheriff

Peers call for legal liability for security bugs

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The government needs to do more to protect ordinary users from cybercrime and safeguard the growth of e-commerce, according to a report from the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee.

Peers argue that a "laissez-faire" attitude to internet security by a range of interested parties including government, ISPs, hardware and software manufacturers, and others is playing into the hands of hackers. The committee's report says that a "wild west" culture where end users alone are responsible for ensuring they are protected from criminal attacks online is "inefficient and unrealistic".

Cybercriminals are highly skilled, organised, and motivated by financial gain. In this climate, individual internet users are increasingly victimised, but instead of either acting itself or providing incentives for the private sector the government insists that users are ultimately responsible for their own security, according to peers.

The Lords' committee proposes a raft of measures to improve the security landscape. Proposals in the committee's Personal Internet Security report include:

  • Increase the resources and skills available to the police and criminal justice system to catch and prosecute e-criminals
  • Establish a centralised and automated system, administered by law enforcement, for the reporting of e-crime.
  • Provide incentives to banks and other companies trading online to improve the data security by establishing a data security breach notification law
  • Improve standards of new software and hardware by moving towards legal liability for damage resulting from security flaws
  • Encourage Internet Service Providers to improve customer security offered by establishing a "kite mark" for internet services

The committee also recommends that the government should urgently review its decision to require online frauds to be first reported to banks rather than police, a measure that came in April. "Victims of e-crime should have acknowledgment from law enforcement bodies that a serious crime has taken place," peers reckon.

Lord Broers, chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said: "The internet is increasingly perceived as a sort of 'wild west', outside the law. People are said to fear e-crime more than mugging. That needs to change, or else confidence in the internet could be destroyed.

"You can't just rely on individuals to take responsibility for their own security. They will always be out-foxed by the bad guys. We feel many of the organisations profiting from internet services now need to take their share of the responsibility. That includes the IT industry and the software vendors, the banks and internet traders, and ISPs."

Lord Broers acknowledged that enacting laws alone won't make for improved internet security. Nonetheless, he argued that government had a role to play in providing incentives to the private sector and by putting more resources into law enforcement.

"The state also needs to do more to protect the public, not only the government itself, but regulators like Ofcom, the police, and the court system," he added. ®

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