This week saw one of the most significant announcements by the Government in the fight against Cybercrime since the initial passing of the Computer Misuse Act in 1990, following the hacking of the Duke of Edinburgh's Prestel mailbox.
Eleven years on, the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHCTU), designed to tackle the growing threat of cybercrime, has been announced by Jack Straw in a fanfare of marketing and PR.
Using computers to commit crime isn't new, but it does appear to be on the increase as more and more people gain access to the internet. We all remember the 'War Games'-type films from the 1980s where bored teenagers would hack into national military systems and set off World War 3; but things have moved on somewhat.
Cybercrime today is focused on corporate espionage and financial gain. There are no guns or violence and the perpetrator is nowhere near the scene: in fact, most of the time they aren't even in the same country! Gartner Group is already predicting that the financial damage caused by cybercrime will increase by between 1000 and 10,000 per cent by 2004.
Special forces such as this new national crime unit are encouraging in that it demonstrates that recognition of the issue is there and the resources will be made available to combat this growing sector of crime. Nevertheless, one of the biggest issues still remains: what power would our police forces have to investigate in other countries - particularly in countries where such activity isn't illegal.
To really be able to combat criminals using computers and telephone lines, we need to engage in international co-operation and develop legislation on a global level which makes unauthorised data access or destruction illegal across all countries. The Love Bug virus is a prime example of how a criminal act that cost the world millions of dollars, goes unchallenged because the law in the Philippines did not recognise international crime committed via computers.
The RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) Act passed last October provided additional investigative powers to the police and the industry at large, but has given a definite feeling of 'Big Brother' to many, to the point where this latest Government initiative may not be received as well as it should be.
This week we've also seen a lot of coverage in the media regarding privacy around the information people are providing as part of the national census, so it's undoubtedly a real concern. However, technology is still limited by the resources that manage it, and although £25 million is a start, it certainly won't support the police spending hours trawling through personal email on the offchance. Their resources will be targeting real and serious criminal activity in an effort to gather evidence for prosecution.
Although it's taken a long time to get here, the NHTCU is a move in the right direction. Ever since those two young hackers were convicted for breaking and entering the Duke of Edinburgh's Prestel mailbox, the police have been fighting against cybercrime with little resource.
The NHTCU will bring a focus to the fight, and let's hope the whole security industry pulls together to support the initiative to ensure that this new department actually helps to make the UK the world leader in ecommerce.
Next edition: 27 April
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