Toughter UK Hacking Laws

The Register reports that the UK Government plans to toughen up computer crime laws under proposals outlined in the Police and Justice Bill on Wednesday. The bill would double the maximum jail sentence for hacking into computer systems from five years to ten years, a provision that will classify hacking as a more serious offense and make it easier to extradite computer crime suspects from overseas. Denial of service attacks, something of a grey area under current regulations, would be clearly classified as a criminal offense under amendments to the 1990 Computer Misuse Act (CMA) proposed in the bill.

Industry pressed for changes along these lines even prior to the 2004 inquiry by MPs that recommended changes to the CMA to modernise UK computer crime law. Other provisions in the bill are likely to prove far more controversial. Clause 35 of the bill contains provisions to ban the development, ownership and distribution of so-called "hacker tools".

But the clause fails to draw adequate distinction between tools which might be used for legal as well as unlawful purposes. Reg readers have been quick to point out that the distinctions between, for example, a password cracker and a password recovery tool, or a utility designed to run DOS attacks and one designed to stress-test a network, are not properly covered in the proposed legislation. Taken as read, the law might even even make use of data recovery software to bypass file access permissions and gain access to deleted data, potentially illegal.