The UK government is being urged to teach children about computing ethics in an attempt to curb the growth of future computer crimes such as virus writing.
In an open letter to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, software company Sophos Anti-Virus appeals for part of the educational curriculum to cover the rights and wrongs of computer use.
Graham Cluley, Sophos senior technology consultant, warns that the government's commitment to increasing internet access for schools could increase the potential risk of cybercrime if there is no emphasis on ethics.
"It is imperative that we teach kids about computer ethics. Virus writing is not cool," said Cluley.
The letter will be sent to the government in the week that sees David Smith facing sentencing in the US for his involvement in distributing the Melissa computer virus that wreaked havoc among companies worldwide last year.
The letter states: "In its election manifesto, the government committed to linking every school in the country to the internet in the next 24 months. Security experts welcome the boost children will receive from increased access to the internet as a learning resource, but are concerned that this needs to be combined with a solid footing in computer ethics. Children must be taught as a part of the computer curriculum that virtual crime has real victims.
"Unauthorised access and modification of another user's data is a criminal offence. Sophos urges the government to work more closely with the computer security industry to ensure the same and ethical computing is at the heart of the school curriculum."
Cluely warned that with virus writers becoming headline news worldwide, there is a risk that children will copy their exploits in a bid for similar notoriety.
He believes that a prison sentence for Smith will be a powerful deterrent to virus writers.
"We need more successful prosecutions. Customers infected need to make a big stink," he said.
Sophos predicts that the number of viruses will grow as computer use spreads and companies will not only suffer from corrupted data. "Company credibility and confidentiality are the hidden costs that aren't thought about," said Cluley.
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