Legal and technical experts say that the new Terrorism 2000 Act, which encompassed computer hacking for the first time, is unlikely to tackle the most common types of hacking or deter ordinary hackers.
The Act broadens the definition of terrorism to include actions that "seriously interfere with or seriously disrupt an electronic system" where there is an intent "to influence the government or to intimidate the public".
John Salmon, a partner in legal firm Masons, said the new Act is likely to have little impact on most computer hacking.
"What is clear [from the Act] is that not all hacking amounts to terrorism," said Salmon. "Unless it is designed to influence the government."
Security experts also stress that, while the new legislation is a welcome acknowledgement of the threat of cyberterrorism, it is unlikely to serve as a deterrent to non-political computer hackers.
"The new legislation highlights the Government's growing realisation that e-security is a real threat to the bottom line of UK businesses," said Royal Hansen, practice director of security firm @stake in Europe. "[But] companies cannot rely on the act for protection. It is not sophisticated enough to react to the crime and not sufficiently well known to act as a deterrent."
Cyberterrorism is seen as a major threat to both state and private institutions. According to one source, UK-based cosmetics companies have in the past been threatened with denial of service (DoS) attacks -- where a computer network is forcibly disabled with a tidal wave of fake traffic.
The 1990 Computer Misuse Act, which tackles computer crime in the UK, is considered by many experts to fall short on combatting hacking. Legal experts say that under this Act it would be difficult to prosecute someone for a denial of service attack. "The Computer Misuse Act is fine as far as it goes," said Rob Carolina, a partner with law firm Tarlo Lyons. But, he said, the new Terrorism Act could catch some other types of hackers, such as Web site defacements that carry a political message.
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