House of Lords warns of e-crime fears

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Aug 10, 2007

Report recommends harder, smarter fight against online dangers.

A major report by the Science and Technology Committee of the UK's House of Lords has found the internet to be rife with crime, with current legislation to control it seriously lacking and public mistrust and fear extremely high.

The detailed study, entitled 'Personal Internet Security', probes issues of online safety from governmental, legal, corporate, technical and personal angles, collecting data from a wide range of sources to present a broad overview of what dangers exist, what is being done to combat them, how effective these measures are and what more can be done, as well as weighing the impact of both online crime and preventative measures on ordinary people.

Evidence was presented to the committee by representatives of various governmental departments, academic institutions, legal and social organisations, law enforcement bodies, and corporations including AOL, eBay, HP, MessageLabs, Microsoft, Sophos and Symantec.

The report discusses online dangers including malware, botnets and DDoS attacks, phishing, identity theft and fraud, describing the internet as a 'criminal's playground', and urged the government to encourage more and better research into these problems, to generate better understanding of their scale and to improve prevention techniques, while warning against moves which may impede researchers in the course of their work, a reference to recent adjustments to computer crime laws which could criminalise some aspects of security research. It recommends a more holistic approach to security, which it currently perceives as focussing responsibility almost entirely on end-users, and suggests ISPs, governments and global bodies should take a more active role in preventing online crime.

For the IT industry, numerous recommendations are made to improve on the current state of affairs, including industry-wide collaboration in the structure and language of security information, improved default settings and automation of vital updates, and also suggests imposing criminal liability on companies found to be neglecting their users' safety.

Businesses operating online, the committee found, need to improve methods for securely storing their customers' private data, and suggests full-disclosure laws should be enacted to force companies to reveal details of security breaches, as well as random security auditing to ensure standards are complied with. For end-users, a serious improvement in education standards are recommended, as well as a possible system of 'kite mark' accreditation for quality security and content-filtering software.

Finally, possible improvements to the policing of the internet include criminalisation of botnet controllers and users, a clear, simple and well-publicised reporting system to allow the public easy recourse to the law, backed up by well-funded online crime specialist teams within the police and well-trained lawyers and judges capable of setting appropriate sentences for online crimes.

'There are some very good ideas put forward here,' said John Hawes, Technical Consultant at Virus Bulletin. 'There is a particularly pressing need for improvements to the systems for reporting and prosecuting online crime, with more openness, clarity and coordination vital to battling the onslaught of malware, phishing and fraud. User education is another important angle in minimising exposure, and the responsibilities of software providers, online businesses and ISPs also need to be taken more seriously. We must hope that these recommendations are acted on swiftly, and implemented into clear, practical and well-funded laws, policies and structures, which can help reduce the dangers of the internet without jeopardising its great freedoms.'

The full text of the report is available online (in a large PDF file) here, with details of the evidence considered by the committee (in an even larger PDF) here. Printed copies of both documents can also be purchased from the UK parliament's publications division, here.

Posted on 10 August 2007 by Virus Bulletin



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