Hackers and virus writers have hit the headlines again recently but not, however, due to their antics online. The annual Def Con convention took place in Las Vegas last month. Seen as the "largest underground security gathering on the planet", attendees pretty much ran rampant, setting off smoke bombs and destroying hotel property.
More momentous and perhaps consequential was the FBI's arrest of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov for violating the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Sklyarov is accused of writing software that allows users to bypass copyright protection within software company Adobe's eBook Reader. As the first criminal case to be brought forward using this Act, the underground network community yet again came under fire from law enforcement powers.
With IT security breaches set to rise steadily, those wanting to combat this are realising that it is not just financial but legal matters that are slowing down the pace at which they would like to battle against them.
So what illustrates this?
Only at the beginning of June, Onel de Guzman's case was reopened for investigation. The name may not bring instant recognition. However, mention the I Love You virus, and that Guzman was the alleged author, and a chorus of recollection will abound.
At the time, the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Justice had little to work on. Guzman could not be tried under Philippine law and evidence to back up convictions was scarce because he insisted he had "accidentally" spread the virus. With the acceptance by governments that the internet has changed laws since they were initially formed, cases such as Guzman's are set to become more frequent.
June has also heralded the announcement that Dutch script kiddie and author of the Kournikova virus, OnTheFly, will appear in court this September to face charges of spreading the malicious worm with intent to cause serious damage. The first case of its kind in The Netherlands, the perpetrator could face anything from six months to four years behind bars.
It was in June, post election, that the UK security arena held much enthusiasm for the future of ecommerce security, but still acknowledged that there was a long way to go. The case of Welsh teenager Raphael Gray has highlighted the need for a turnaround in the law.
Unemployed Gray hacked into websites collecting up to 23,000 credit card details. In his wake he caused an estimated £250,000 worth of damages to credit card companies. The knowledge that that the customer often feels the brunt of incidents such as these is with out doubt helping the push for laws that can catch and reprimand those causing such havoc.
Gray admitted in March that he was guilty of theft and hacking under the Computer Misuse Act and Theft Act. When tried at the beginning of July, however, Gray, who states that he is a "saint of ecommerce" and was only proving a point, was let off with community probation and a course of psychiatric treatment.
How can this happen?
Unfortunately, not only is there a lack of proportionate funding but also of solid legislation that relates to the impact that the internet has had on everyday life in the last decade. Legislation has to be key in deterring would-be hackers or virus writers and governments need to wise up to this.
Gray's defence argued that he had not hacked into sites, because there was nothing to determine that his access was either unauthorised or authorised. It's a point unable to be proved due to holes in the Computer Misuse Act that can't relate to crimes carried out via the web.
Other laws that need to be looked at with the internet in mind are those such as the Telecommunications Act, the Obscene Publications Act, the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. In doing so, simple changes could be made that mean cyber criminals can no longer claim insanity or ignorance, for example.
There are identifiable movements in this area that are forging the path for workable laws, such as the Terrorism Act 2000 which now includes anyone that seriously interferes with or disrupts an electronic system.
Recent cases are highlighting the need to take action before more criminals are let off because their chosen medium was the internet. Yes, the Government is taking the right route but as ever it needs to be defined and projected. Only when this is done can law abiding players be sure that those deliberately setting out to cause disruption will be punished.
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