Ex-cracker slams UK cybercrime law

Even the cybercriminals aren't impressed by the government's cyber crime legislation
Written by Will Knight, Contributor

Former UK computer cracker Herbless has hit out at government legislation designed to combat computer crime, claiming that it will do nothing to stop high-tech criminals.

Herbless -- who shot to fame after defacing government and corporate sites Web sites with political messages -- says that the government's oft-criticised Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) will be completely ineffectual for catching petty criminals such as Web page defacers and even less useful when it comes to hunting professional computer criminals.

The act requires ISPs to install monitoring equipment that will allow police to eavesdrop on suspected criminals. Herbless echoes other pundits by suggesting that these measures will be easy to elude. "The RIP bill is an ill thought-out piece of legislation that will not affect hackers greatly," says Herbless in an email. "It also won't affect the terrorist greatly, either. In fact, it will not help anyone very much [government included], as it is technically insufficient for the job of monitoring email communications effectively." He also suggests that the Act places an unfair responsibility on ISPs.

Many experts agree that RIPA will be ineffective in targeting criminals. Brian Gladman, former Ministry of Defence computer security consultant says that the Act will be simple to avoid. "There's no reason why anyone who thinks about protecting themselves should be vulnerable to RIP," he says. Ways they scupper RIPA surveillance include using temporary encryption keys and anonymous or off shore-email services.

Herbless does voice concern, however, about proposed international cooperation on computer crime designed to close off legal loopholes allowing fugitives to escape prosecution and establish common penalties. The world's leading industrialised nations G8 met recently to discuss tightening computer crime laws, although details of these laws have yet to be clarified. The cracker suggests that this might unfairly impact normal computer users be open to abuse.

"What worries me far more than RIP is the new international treatise being drawn up by the European community, the USA and several other countries which makes it illegal for an individual to be in possession of any device used in hacking. It's so vague that it is possible to be arrested for owning a portscanner, or even a computer!"

At the height of his fame Herbless struck government Web sites posting anti-smoking messages and corporate sites including the HSBC's bank web site to protest fuel pricing.

His criticism of RIPA is echoed by head of e-policy at the Institute of Directors Jim Norton. Norton claims software that deletes encryption keys will become common, making police powers to demand encryption keys obsolete. "Far from helping the law enforcement agenda, RIP will damage it," says Norton.

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