June 20, 2006
Lord Northesk wants to protect IT pros and the police from
criminalisation, and nail down the law covering denial of service
Sweeping changes to UK computer crime laws have been proposed by a
Lord Northesk is seeking to amend the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) 1990
to give the police and judiciary greater "legal clarity" when dealing
with computer crime.
The proposed changes would alter the law regarding launching denial of
service attacks, the creation of tools that could be used for hacking,
and bot attacks.
The UK government is currently trying to update the CMA through
amendments in the Police and Justice Bill 2006, which will be debated
in the House of Lords this week. Northesk has proposed amendments to
the government's own amendments.
As it stands, paragraph 1b of Clause 41 of the Police and Justice Bill
would make it an offence to release a computer tool that is "likely to
be used" in a computer offense. As reported last month, experts are
concerned that the government's proposals would have criminalised IT
and security professionals who make network monitoring tools publicly
available or who disclose details of unpatched vulnerabilities.
Northesk's amendments, if passed, would see this paragraph deleted. He
believes that it could even criminalise the police, if they create and
distribute tools for forensic investigation.
Northesk is pushing for the concept of recklessness to be introduced
into the updated CMA. He is seeking to amend Clause 40 of the Police
and Justice Bill so that malicious denial of service (DoS) attacks are
criminalised by the CMA but legitimate political protests that slow
down servers would not be.
"The key point in Clause 40 is the inclusion of recklessness and
intention [in launching attacks]. With effective civil disobedience, a
whole series of people petition online [which may cause servers to
crash]. Under the current draft this form of legitimate protest may be
denied," said Northesk.
"The purpose of the Clause 40 amendment is to address the fundamental
issue that a lot of Internet activity - such as electronic civil
disobedience - currently comes under CMA."
By introducing the issue of recklessness, Lord Northesk also hopes to
protect the police themselves from prosecution. "With [establishing]
recklessness there is no bar on forensic hacking," he said.
Northesk has also proposed modifying Clause 39 of the Police and
Justice Bill so that Trojan horse software that inserts itself onto a
system, allowing remote access by hackers, will be specifically
covered by the law.
"The current text of the CMA doesn't deal with bot attacks =97 inserting
software onto a machine that allows remote attacks," said Northesk.
The peer said he hopes the legislation will enable the police and
judiciary to better tackle cybercrime, and provide the government with
guidance in understanding it.
"I'm a great believer in legal clarity. Too often within government
it's not properly understood that which is trying to be achieved. In
the desire to future-proof legislation, they tend not to address
problems that are sitting there because they are seen as difficult to
understand," Northesk told ZDNet UK.
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