UK welcomes careful hackers

Britain's new approach to serious crime means you'll get little help from the police if your PC is hijacked
Written by Leader , Contributor

Are you the kind of person who's financially motivated, a self-starter, happy to work alone or as part of a team? Who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner? Well, have we got news for you. Good news, too. If you hijack a computer in the UK and demand payment to release it, the police won't so much as open their notebooks.

That's the only conclusion to be drawn from the case of Helen Barrow, who fell victim to Archiveus, a crude and nasty piece of malware which encrypted data on her home PC and demanded payment via a Russian Web site.

Ms Barrow was fortunate in that she managed to recover some of her files without paying up for the password, but not as fortunate as those responsible. Greater Manchester Police won't investigate the offence as it's technically an "international crime", and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency is very unlikely to act without proof that it was the work of organised criminals.

As a result, cybercriminals have a licence to try and fleece as many UK citizens as they like. They won't appear on SOCA's radar unless they also dabble in drug-smuggling or international terrorism, and as long as they don't operate from a Manchester cybercafe they should be safe from the local boys in blue, too.

The situation is especially frustrating, because it was predicted months ago. The government was right to create SOCA as an appropriate response to highly sophisticated and well-funded international organised crime. Including cybercrime in its remit also made sense. But the merger of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit into SOCA appears to have left us unprotected against computerised attack that falls short of Bond villany.

Check it out now. Visit www.nhtcu.org. You'll find a single page telling you to contact your local police if you want to report a crime. But as Ms Barrow established, that route leads precisely nowhere.

This situation will encourage more attacks on companies and domestic users. Malicious hackers who choose their targets carefully can operate without fear. Users are left unprotected from serious threats, even as the self-appointed software police threaten schoolteachers with imprisonment if they break a software licensing agreement.

Terrorism may attract headline funding, but for most of us the risk of petty extortion in our own homes is far more real. While the only porridge the criminals are looking at is on the shelves of their local Tescos, we are being failed by those who claim to protect us. Someone should get locked up for that.

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