When I was growing up I remember watching the news every evening with my parents and one of the stories that seemed to be repeated on a very regular basis was that of CND protesters assembling around the country as they campaigned for nuclear disarmament. Maybe it was because of my age but it seemed at the time like everyone thought the world would end in a nuclear mushroom cloud.
As the years have gone by such protests appear to have either lessened or become less newsworthy. Nowadays you are more likely to switch your computer on and see images of people wearing Guy Fawkes masks as they protest about internet related issues instead.
The web has become the means for millions of people to air their opinions on just about anything and large movements of like minded individuals can form in no time at all through the myriad of networks crisscrossing the globe. But these networks that we have built can also be used for far more nefarious purposes including crimes against the person, companies and even against entire nations.
So is it any surprise that the British government now think that the threat of cyber attacks on the UK are a graver threat than that of a nuclear strike? That is certainly the line taken in a new report from the UK Home Affairs Committee which is a panel tasked with scrutinising governmental policy.
After a 10 month inquiry the Committee have published their Report on e-crime today and it contains some interesting conclusions and commentary.
The chairman of the Committee, the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, said,
“The threat of a cyber attack to the UK is so serious it is marked as a higher threat than a nuclear attack.
You can steal more on the internet than you can by robbing a bank and online criminals in 25 countries have chosen the UK as their number one target.”
In response the committee concluded that sentencing was an area that needs to be addressed and that those who steal money or data online should be subject to the same level of punishment as if they had stolen offline –
“If we don’t have a 21st century response to this 21st century crime, we will be letting those involved in these gangs off the hook. We need to establish a state of the art espionage response centre. At the moment the law enforcement response to e-criminals is fractured and half of it is not even being put into the new National Crime Agency.”
The committee also approved of Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent proposals to place filters on search engines in order to block content that is deemed to be inappropriate such as porn and incitement to commit acts of terrorism (though I do wonder who gets to choose what exactly is “inappropriate”) –
“The tragic murders of April Jones and Tia Sharp have shown the terrible consequences of access to indecent images on the web. Young people are increasingly radicalised online by the words of radical clerics such as Anwar al-Awlaki on YouTube or internet magazine Inspire. What starts on the web, ends up on the streets of Woolwich.”
In this area the committee concluded that a planned budget cut of 10% over 4 years would be detrimental to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP). They also suggested that the government should set up an organisation similar to the Internet Watch Foundation that could report on and remove terrorism related content.