Lords leap into security inquiry

A House of Lords committee wants to hear whether UK citizens are sufficiently protected when going online

The House of Lords has launched an inquiry into the personal Internet security of home computer users.

The Lords' Science and Technology Committee will look at the nature of security threats facing private individuals, the scale of the problem, and how well the public understands the nature of those threats, it said on Friday.

The committee will also examine whether the current laws and regulatory framework concerning cybercrime and Internet services are effective.

"We are doing more and more online, from our weekly grocery shop to banking to downloading music and video and, increasingly, using the Internet to make telephone calls," said Lord Broers, the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee.

"Those who haven't yet done so are being encouraged to get online, but how many of us know about the risks?" Broers added.

"Technology is changing so fast that no one seems to have had time to step back and look in the round at the emerging threats to personal security, and the ways society might counter them. This inquiry gives Parliament a chance to do just that."

The inquiry was welcomed by security experts, who said that it was high time the government made more of an effort to raise public awareness of the issues.

"Anything which stirs the government into action to start doing something about cybercrime has to be good news," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for business antivirus vendor Sophos.

Cluley said awareness-raising campaigns such as Get Safe Online had not had an appreciable effect or impact.

"Get Safe Online was launched with the best intentions, but it has failed. The average guy in the street doesn't have much of a clue about how to protect their computer, or about GetSafeOnline. Some serious money has to be spent to raise awareness," said Cluley.

The inquiry should investigate whether we need to enforce more cooperative working practices between Internet service providers and law enforcement authorities, how cybercrime units can get more funding, and how greater transparency for reporting crime can be achieved, said Cluley.

"One big issue is that there is not really a framework to report cybercrime, and that New Scotland Yard probably doesn't have enough resources and budget to address it. The police need a proper budget," said Cluley.

A report issued last week by the Office of the Attorney General claimed that victims of Internet fraud often aren't able to report the crime to the authorities, and that the police often view fraud perpetrated against companies as being victimless.

The committee has issued a call for evidence from interested parties and members of the public who have been affected by cybercrime. Written evidence must be submitted to the Committee by 23 October this year.

The members of the Committee who will conduct the inquiry are Lord Broers, Lord Howie of Troon, Lord Mitchell, Lord Patel, Lord Paul, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and Lord Young of Graffham. Other members will be confirmed in the autumn.