Cybercrime 'bigger threat than nuclear war', UK lawmakers say

Following the lead of the U.S., U.K. lawmakers say that preventing cybercrime is now a top priority.


Is the threat of cybercrime more of concern than a nuclear bomb? The U.K. government believes so.

The U.K. Home Affairs Committee, a panel dedicated to scrutinizing governmental policy, has released a report which claims the country is failing in efforts to protect businesses and consumers against cybercrime. After a ten-month inquiry, the committee released its report on E-crime, saying that 25 countries have chosen the United Kingdom as a primary target due to the valuable information stored on servers, including bank and financial data.

The report says there is a "black hole" where cybercriminals have free reign to attack targets, and are able to do so due to a lack of active police enforcement. Cybercrimes are often left unreported, and instead of rooting out the problem, banks will often just reimburse customers who may have had their identity or banking details stolen.

As a result, cybercriminals are able to reap large profits with few repercussions, especially if they systematically attack through low-level fraud rather than aim for high-profile targets.

Committee Chair and MP Keith Vaz said:

"We are not winning the war on online criminal activity. We are being too complacent about these E-wars because the victims are hidden in cyberspace. The threat of a cyber attack to the U.K. is so serious it is marked as a higher threat than a nuclear attack."

This opinion reflects U.S. intelligence chiefs who said in March that cybercrime has replaced terrorism as the "top threat" facing the United States.

The panel says that sentencing guidelines should be reviewed in order to properly punish cybercriminals, and hackers should "receive the same sentences as if they had stolen the same amount of money or data offline."

Vaz commented:

"If we don’t have a 21st century response to this 21st century crime, we will be letting those involved in these gangs off the hook. We need to establish a state of the art espionage response centre. At the moment the law enforcement response to e-criminals is fractured and half of it is not even being put into the new National Crime Agency."

The committee also approves U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's recent proposal to place "porn filters" on search engines and block websites that have content deemed "inappropriate," including pornography and terrorism indictment. While many believe the filters are the first step towards online censorship and the U.K.'s very own version of the Great Firewall of China, the report argues:

It is still too easy for people to access inappropriate online content, particularly indecent images of children, terrorism incitement and sites informing people how to commit online crime. There is no excuse for complacency.

The committee urges those responsible to take stronger action to remove such content. The government should draw up a mandatory code of conduct with them to remove material which breaches acceptable standards.

As a result, the MPs are "alarmed" that the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is due to suffer budget cuts of 10 percent over the next four years. If porn-related filters go ahead, cutting away the CEOP's resources may result in inappropriate websites slipping through the net and therefore more children placed at risk.

To try and reinforce these claims, the report uses the murder cases of April Jones and Tia Sharp to suggest there are "terrible consequences" to being able to access child pornography online, and says that the next generation of citizens are being "radicalized" as they can access the preaching of clerics including Anwar al-Awlaki on YouTube.

Whether having access to such content prompts action is arguable, but Vaz believes that ISPs, search engine and social media networks are "far too laid back" and failing to censor or take down "inappropriate content." The MP says that if service providers fail to act, the "government should legislate.'