British government outlines plans to outlaw creation/distribution of hacking tools

The government, bless its cotton socks, has outlined plans to make it illegal to create or distribute so-called hacking tools.

Rather than draft a new set of legislation, the gameplan is to make a series of amendments to the Computer Misuse Act, which is now included in the Police and Justice Act of 2006.

According to newswire reports, plans call for the amendments to come into force this coming May, by which time the Serious Crime Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Commons, should start to become law.

So why the changes? Well, the government argues - quite correctly - there is a real need for a reworking of the UK's computer crime legislation to take account of the rapid rise of so-called hacker tools and/or software utilities.

The problem with these utilities, say some sources, is that they are also being used for legit purposes by computer consultants and, in some cases, IT managers in large organisations, so making their possession illegal isn't really the best option.

The government's solution to the problem has been to develop a set of guidelines for prosecutors to abide by when investigating whether to prosecute a case.

The idea behind the guidelines is that - in theory at least - they establish that, in order to successfully prosecute the author of a tool it needs to be shown that they had the intent (the mens rea) for the utility to be used to commit computer crime.

The Home Office, however, despite intense lobbying by industry experts, has reportedly refused to withdraw the offence of distribution, meaning that a security consultant or IT manager who uses the tool legitimately, can still find themselves open to prosecution if the tool falls into the wrong hands.

So how can the utility fall into the wrong hands?

If, for example, a hacker hacks an online system and downloads the software.

Good stuff eh? Basically we're back to square one with a rather stupid set of laws with government guidelines as icing on the cake...