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Demand for safety kitemark on software stepped up

MPs want new standard plus web security schooling

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The government and industry ought to do more to promote online safety, according to an influential panel of MPs.

Politicos on the Science and Technology Select Committee called for the expansion of Get Safe Online and similar efforts, and for more prolonged awareness campaigns geared towards dispelling fears and encouraging common sense.

The committee wants a single place where punters can get basic security advice, stripped of confusing technical jargon, plus television campaigns.

It also wants public services to be convenient and secure by design, rather than focused on cost-savings, because the government's "digital by default" policy will require citizens to access services, including benefit payments, online.

Finally, and most controversially, MPs want to see "safety standards on software sold within the EU, similar to those imposed on vehicle manufacturers". Industry self-regulation is the preferred route towards achieving that goal but the panel said that if that fails then legislation ought to be considered.

In a statement, Andrew Miller MP, chairman of the committee, said:

Despite the increasing use of malware, the internet is still a reasonably safe place to go about one’s business, provided users take a few sensible precautions. Government departments need to realise that better public information about computer safety could save huge numbers of people the hassle of having their personal details stolen.

Knowledge is the best defence against fear, so the Government should focus on raising awareness of how to stay safe online - rather than scaring people about the dangers of cyber crime.

The group's recommendations follow a series of hearings on malware and cybercrime that resulted in the publication of a formal report last week.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, welcomed the report while emphasising the need for better cybercrime reporting mechanisms to properly scope the extent of the problem.

"We strongly believe that greater awareness and education regarding internet threats is a key element in fighting cyber crime, and it's encouraging to see the committee's report not only back this idea, but also to recommend that messages need to be customised carefully for the different generations of people using the net," he said.

"Simple, easy-to-understand language is by far the best way to help computer users understand how to protect themselves online, and we are keen supporters of the government-backed GetSafeOnline website.

"We need an independent way of measuring the cyber-threat that's out there.  Much of the data used by the report is supplied by security vendors, who - one can argue - could have a vested interest in hyping up the internet threat.  To avoid such accusations, proper systems must be put in place to make it easy for citizens to report internet crimes and malware attacks," he added, while suggesting the first place to start would be teaching cops how cyber-criminals work. ®

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