Feeds

UK gov sets rules for hacker tool ban

Consultants in frame? Definitely Maybe

High performance access to file storage

The UK government has published guidelines for the application of a law that makes it illegal to create or distribute so-called "hacking tools".

The controversial measure is among amendments to the Computer Misuse Act included in the Police and Justice Act 2006. However, the ban along with measures to increase the maximum penalty for hacking offences to ten years and make denial of service offences clearly illegal, are still not in force and probably won't be until May 2008 in order not to create overlap with the Serious Crime Bill, currently making its way through the House of Commons.

A revamp of the UK's outdated computer crime laws is long overdue. However, provisions to ban the development, ownership and distribution of so-called "hacker tools" draw sharp criticism from industry. 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 subtle. The problem is that anything from nmap through wireshark to perl can be used for both legitimate and illicit purposes, in much the same way that a hammer can be used for putting up shelving or breaking into a car.

Following industry lobbying the government has come through with guidelines that address some, but not all, of these concerns about "dual-use" tools. The guidelines establish that to successfully prosecute the author of a tool it needs to be shown that they intended it to be used to commit computer crime. But the Home Office, despite lobbying, refused to withdraw the distribution offence. This leaves the door open to prosecute people who distribute a tool, such as nmap, that's subsequently abused by hackers.

The Crown Prosecution Service guidance, published after a long delay on Monday, also asks prosecutors to consider if an article is "available on a wide scale commercial basis and sold through legitimate channels". Critics argue this test fails to factor in the widespread use of open source tools or rapid product innovation.

IT and the law are never easy bedfellows. While the guidelines probably make it less likely the security consultants will be prosecuted by over-zealous lawyers for actions they don't understand are legitimate, they are still a bit of a mess.

Richard Clayton, a security researcher at Cambridge University and long-time contributor to UK security policy working groups, has a useful analysis of the proposals here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
NSA denies it knew about and USED Heartbleed encryption flaw for TWO YEARS
Agency forgets it exists to protect communications, not just spy on them
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.