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The European Commission has launched a consultation on how it can strengthen the European Union's response to computer attacks. The Commission is canvassing views ahead of a debate early next year about an EU-wide coordination of computer security.

A statement from the Commission said that responses to cyber-attacks from individual countries were inadequate and that countries must act together to ensure that information and networks are safe for users.

The Commission is holding an online consultation until January next year, when the results will be used to determine whether a coordinated policy will form a part of planned telecoms law reforms.

"Network and information security challenges will require a strong, coordinated European response," said the Commission statement. "Recent cyber-attacks targeting individual countries have shown that one country on its own can be very vulnerable."

In 2004 the Commission established the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) to advise on and publicise the problems of network and information security. But after a 2007 Commission investigation found ENISA's impact to be "below expectations", it proposed transferring security concerns to a new telecoms regulator.

The Commission's plans for a super-regulator, though, were dashed earlier this year by the European Parliament, which has instead backed a scaled-down EU telecoms regulator which will still have to work with national regulators.

The Commission is now consulting on a possible EU-wide security policy. As part of the consultation it is asking if the EU should develop an 'incident response capability'. It said that such a capability could be "a key element of ensuring fast responses to cyber attacks and speedy recovery from disruptions", and asks respondents how that could be achieved.

Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding has asked the other two wings of EU government, the Parliament and the Council of Ministers early next year to have "an intense debate on Europe’s approach to network security and on how to deal with cyber-attacks, and to include the future of ENISA in those reflections".

The Commission's report into ENISA in 2007 said that "the Agency’s activities appear insufficient to achieve the high level of impacts and value added hoped for, and its visibility is below expectations.

"There are a number of problems that affect the ability of the Agency to perform at its best: they concern its organisational structure, the skills mix and the size of its operational staff, the remote location, and the lack of focus on impacts rather than on deliverables," said the report.

The Commission had wanted to fold ENISA into its super-regulator, but the Parliament proposed its own form of regulation and the Council extended ENISA's mandate from 2009 to 2012.

The Commission said that it was running its consultation to what a strengthened network and information security policy at EU level should tackle, and on the means to achieve those objectives.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

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

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