Computer Crime Research Center


Internet safety approaches

Date: October 28, 2005
By: Iain Thomson

The government launched its biggest ever internet safety campaign today in an attempt to make e-commerce safer.

One of the leading lights behind the push is Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group and Nottinghamshire MP Dr Nick Palmer, one of the few MPs with hands-on IT experience thanks to his previous career running a multinational intranet.

He took the time to speak to about the challenges facing the public in an increasingly online society.

Why is the government choosing to act on internet safety at this time?

The campaign is being launched around all internet use, not just spyware which I spoke on last week. There's a feeling that we were behind the curve when it came to warning about viruses and worms and we wanted to make sure that we were ahead of the curve this time round.

Will this campaign, and the larger fight to make the internet safer, require new funding for forces like the National High Tech Crime Unit?

It's likely that the expansion of our activities will need some increase in funding for the police investigating online crime. There's a need to be seen to be better than the criminals and we need to move beyond the situation where some feel we're moving a step behind the criminal element.

With spyware, how important is it to protect legitimate operators?

We need to be clear about what is legitimate and what isn't. People who want to operate on the right side of the law need to be supported. But we can't tolerate those who operate outside the law.

Unfortunately those who operate legitimate spyware, code that lets people know exactly what it's doing and why, will find they are less effective than those who don't care about consumers, and illegal operators will fill the gap. So we need to support the ethical and stop those who don't adhere to our guidelines.

How well do you think IT issues are understood generally in government?

The Civil Service is generally very good on IT issues. They have very good specialists who understand the issues and practicalities. In parliament itself there is less expertise.

Out of the 600 plus MPs in the House of Commons there's only a small number who actually have direct IT experience, maybe as few as 20.

And what about the police?

To be frank it varies a lot. The specialist police services are really up to speed on computer issues and have some of the best minds in the business. On local forces it varies a lot but I don't think you can expect every bobby on the beat to be a computer expert. That's one reason why you need expertise centralised.

How well are international efforts going to deal with cyber-crime?

Within the EU things are going very well, and we're all pulling together in the same direction. Worldwide there are more problems.

The difficulty comes with small countries for which the offer of finance for activities outside UK and US law is very tempting.

If you're a Pacific island dependent on fishing and tourism for your gross national product you'd need a very strong will to turn down large amounts of money to allow electronic crime within your borders, particularly if the offers included the threat of physical harm if you say no.

It's a bit like the situation in Afghanistan where unsupported farmers are being forced into growing opium poppies. We need to help foster legitimate behaviour and isolate those who decide to break the law, maybe going as far as limiting their access to the internet if absolutely necessary.

What about the role of industry? Surely it has a huge part to play.

The IT industry wants to have a clean image, but not at the expense of high costs so it's a trade off. An example would be the keeping of internet records. Industry's enthusiasm was diminished for things like storing this data for a year because of the increased cost. But if there's a way to improve their image at little or no cost then they're right behind it.

Do you think we'll need new computer crime laws?

I was pleased, and a little surprised, that the expert view seems to be that we don't need any extra laws to deal with computer crime. The Computer Misuse Act is comprehensive and I don't get the feeling from talking to the specialists that we need any news laws at this time.

What would be your advice for members of the public worried about computer crime?

Well there are a few simple things you can do to make your online activities safer. Firstly make sure your browser is set up so that it has to ask you before allowing any software to be installed from a website. That way you can judge if you're happy with a proposed download before it happens. It's quite easy to do, not that disruptive and is a good thing to get set up.

Secondly be alert for problems. If you're suddenly getting a lot of pop up adverts on your system or your PC slows right down it's a good indication that there's something on there that shouldn't be.

There's a lot of good free tools on the internet, software like Spybot and Adaware, that are very good at getting rid of such problems and if you're really worried then you can buy a premium product that will be even more effective.

Finally where would you like us to be in five years' time when it comes to online safety?

I'd like us to be in a similar position to where we are with viruses today. Sensible users with antivirus protection rarely have a problem, so long as they update regularly.

But if someone's running around online with no protection then they will encounter some problems. It's all about responsible computing.
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2007-10-29 10:53:07 - shawty sammie
2005-11-10 08:03:22 - ojjik-pjjo-0khkbookokpo[p[][pu8yuobm... moroof
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