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Computer Misuse Act changes are delayed further

DoS attacks not criminal till October

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Denial of service attacks will not be criminalised in England and Wales for another six months despite measures lying unused in existing laws since 2006. Changes to the Computer Misuse Act will not be activated until October.

The Home Office confirmed to OUT-LAW.COM that the long-awaited changes will not happen now as planned, but in October. It had previously said that the changes would be implemented in spring of this year.

The changes are already in force in Scotland. A Statutory Instrument was passed last year which brought them into force on 1st October 2007.

The changes will make clear that denial of service attacks are illegal. Such attacks can disable a website or computer network through the automated sending of countless, near-simultaneous messages which clog up a network.

The changes will also make it an offence to distribute tools which are "likely" to be used for hacking computer networks. This part of the law has been controversial because experts have warned that it could criminalise some research into hacking.

Anyone found guilty of launching a denial of service attack could be imprisoned for up to ten years. The new law also increases the maximum sentence for unauthorised access to computer networks from six months to two years.

The changes are to be made by bringing into force some parts of the Police and Justice Act and the Serious Crime Act that have been passed but have remained inactive.

The Home Office said that a Statutory Instrument will bring those parts of the law into force in October 2008, though it could not give a precise date.

The specific outlawing of denial of service attacks was thought necessary after a teenager was cleared of any offence after sending five million emails to his employer.

His lawyer successfully argued that because his employer's email server was designed to accept emails, he committed no offence in sending email to it.

The trial judge found that no offence had been committed under the Computer Misuse Act, though the Court of Appeal later ruled that the judge had been wrong to draw that conclusion.

The changes to the law were made in November 2006.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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