Leader: We are all guilty of letting hackers run free

We need zero tolerance, not just longer jail terms

We need zero tolerance, not just longer jail terms

A bill introduced to the House of Commons would - if passed - increase the sentences for hacking from six months to two years and from five years to 10 years for further related offences.

Sadly this particular piece of backbench legislation is unlikely to get much further but there is a sense that something has to be done to discourage those who abuse computer systems, especially with the minor sentences being given out at the moment.

For example, last week the 19-year-old who wrote the Sasser email virus - which caused havoc and huge financial damage to businesses worldwide last year - escaped with a 21-month suspended sentence from a German court.

One problem with increasing jail terms for hackers is that stiffer sentences don't deter criminals - simply because most don't think they are going to get caught.

The fear of being caught does deter them. But the reality is that if you are a hacker operating at the moment it is very unlikely that you will caught.

Some of your victims won't ever realise you were in their systems at all and the ones that do will be unlikely to track you back through the web.

And even if they do spot you and can track you and persuade the police to get involved, companies then have to decide whether they want the hassle and unpleasant publicity that would come from a court case - a case which they might not even win because they may have destroyed vital evidence when they started their hacker hunt.

Tougher sentences are a good thing - because digital networks are now vital to the systems that keep the country running, from air traffic control to the financial markets - so there must be a clear message given out that messing around with them will land you in jail.

Perhaps if the government shows it is getting serious about punishing cyber criminals, then the police will get serious about investigating them.

And if police get serious about investigating them, perhaps companies will start to admit to attacks on their computers.

But at the moment we are all guilty of letting hackers off the hook; it is up to us all - from users to police to government - to show that we have zero tolerance of hackers and will do everything we can to stamp them out.