Five steps to a safer e-Britain

MPs who think a cybercrime tsar would make us safer online should address a few problems closer to home first
Written by Leader , Contributor

It's always encouraging to see MPs debating the threat that electronic crime poses to the UK. However, Mark Pritchard's suggestion that we need a cybersecurity tsar to lead the fight against Internet criminals is unlikely to be embraced by the government. And rightly so.

As security experts said on Tuesday, there are already plenty of organisations charged with protecting us online. It's hard to see how an extra body will help when the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, NISCC and the e-government unit are already addressing the problem from different angles.

Rather than creating another Westminster head honcho to blame the next time a virus sweeps across our networks or a malicious hacker infiltrates a vital system, MPs should push for a handful of changes that could make UK companies, government bodies and individuals much safer online.

For a start, they could apply some much-needed teeth to the Computer Misuse Act, currently as menacing as Boris Karloff without his dentures. We've said it before, and we'd really rather not have to say it again. A Private Members Bill that would do this is struggling through the parliamentary system right now. The Government needs to give this its full support.

Once they have done that, our elected leaders could have a rummage down the back of the sofas in Annie's Bar and see if they can find enough money to fund our hi-tech police properly. This is a major problem, say insiders. High-tech criminal investigations are overwhelmed by the  masses of electronic evidence they have to gather with extremely limited resources. This gives organised criminals a much better chance of getting away with it.

They could also ponder exactly how the public are expected to help battle cybercrime when it's so difficult to report an offence. The UK's pitiful anti-spam laws are a case in point. If you want to alert the Information Commissioner to a breach of the UK's privacy and electronic communications laws then you have to print out a four-page form and dispatch it to Cheshire.

Virus attacks? You're pretty much on your own, unless you fancy taking a printout of your server logs down to the local police station.

MPs could also question why the cybersecurity problem is getting worse, even though Microsoft has finally made security a top priority. Could it be because the dunce's cap has been passed to the applications vendors? The SANS Institute certainly thinks so. If Microsoft, which still stars in too many security warnings for anyone's liking, is now being held up as an example of good practice, how bad are the rest?

And to finish a good day's work, Parliament should call for the Internet service providers and hammer home that they can't keep abdicating responsibility. All those hijacked PCs pumping out spam and viruses are using an Internet connection, and ISPs are the only people who can stop it.

Tsar? Humbug. These five measures would do much more good.

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