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The European Commission wants to harmonise the laws of EU member states dealing with cyber-attacks. It wants to create a new Directive on attacks on information systems, it said in a statement.

The European Commission adopted a 'framework decision' in 2005 that attempted to coordinate laws across Europe on hacking, viruses and denial of service attacks.

It has now said that an increase in the sophistication of these attacks and a change in the legal structure of the EU following the passing of the Lisbon Treaty means that that framework decision should be replaced by a Directive.

"[The framework decision] currently in force was a first step towards addressing the issue of attacks against IT systems. Technological advances and new methods employed by perpetrators call for an improvement of EU rules," said a Commission statement.

"In addition, the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 provides considerable advantages for new legislation to be adopted in the field of Justice and Home Affairs from now on," it said. "Legislation will no longer need to be approved unanimously by the EU Council of Minsters (which represents national governments). Instead, it will be adopted by a majority of Member States at the Council together with the European Parliament. A single country will not be able to block a proposal."

Cyber-attackers are increasingly using massed ranks of hijacked computers, called botnets, to conduct attacks. Groups opposed to anti-piracy legislation and enforcement, for example, are thought to be behind recent denial of service attacks on various legal and institutional websites that are likely to have used botnets.

The Commission said that it wanted to create a new Directive so that it could ensure that laws in all of the EU member states were adequate to deal with what it said were increasingly dangerous threats.

"Implementation at national level will ... be improved," it said. "The Commission will now be able to monitor how Member States apply EU legislation. If it finds that EU countries violate the rules, it will be in a position to refer the case to the European Court of Justice. These considerations add to the justification for the new proposed Directive."

Like the framework decision, the planned Directive will outlaw gaining illegal access to systems; and interference with systems and data. In addition it will penalise the use of botnets and other 'tools' for those purposes; and make police forces respond faster to problems and collect more data on cyber offences.

The Directive would also increase the penalties for those found guilty of offences under it.

"The proposed Directive raises the level of criminal penalties to a maximum term of imprisonment of at least two years. Instigation, aiding, abetting and attempt of those offences will become penalised as well," said the statement. "Once adopted, the Directive raises the level of criminal penalties of offences committed under aggravating circumstances to a maximum term of imprisonment of at least five years (instead of two years, as foreseen by [the framework decision]).

Those aggravating circumstances would be that the offences were committed by someone acting as part of a criminal organisation; by someone using a tool such as a botnet; or by someone concealing their own identity or using someone else's.

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