Ashdown: Internet is a 'lawless space'

Lord Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has warned of the increasing threat from cyber-terrorism, and called for a co-ordinated international response

Former leader of the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown has said that terrorism is being facilitated by a lack of oversight of the internet.

Speaking to ZDNet UK at an Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) press event, Lord Ashdown said cybercrime and terrorism rush "into the vacuum of a lawless space" if governance of internet activity by countries is too weak.

"Is the internet a lawless space? Of course," said Ashdown. "Effectively, there are no laws, except in places like China. I'm a liberal, so I believe in the free flow of information, but there are issues that need to be addressed."

Ashdown, a former high representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that, while international regulation is undesirable, a co-ordinated international response from governments is needed to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks by militants.

Ashdown was speaking at the launch of an IPPR report entitled Shared Destinies: Security in a Globalised World, delivered by the independent, cross-party Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, which Ashdown co-chairs. The report warns that web tools such as Google Earth have been used for "hostile surveillance and targeting purposes", while the internet has also been used by terrorists to radicalise people and incite violence.

The report also warns that fraud and theft are increasingly occuring online.

"National governments and global cyber-governing bodies have been overwhelmed by the ingenuity and pervasive online presence of organised criminal gangs in recent years," states the report.

Lord Robertson, who also attended the IPPR event, told ZDNet UK that the current economic crisis could lead to more cyberattacks on businesses.

"Threats to the global infrastructure have been magnified by economic fragility over the past few months," said Robertson, a former secretary general of Nato. "The magnification of threats has been caused by interconnectivity, where one incident can trigger others. The interconnectivity of enterprises has to be taken into account. The business world has to wake up to what could happen to it."

Robertson recommended that businesses perform exercises to test the vulnerability of their systems.

Conservative MP Ian Taylor also said that interconnectivity was the key to understanding cyber-risks. "We have become so interconnected. Non-government players' failure to understand the threats that can be exploited by terrorists has become a threat to society," said Taylor.