UK Government Outpaced by Cyber-Crime

Tristan Kitchin July 30, 2013 2
UK Government Outpaced by Cyber-Crime

Concerns have been raised regarding the problem of Internet crime, after a committee of MPs on Tuesday said Britain was too complacent in its actions against it.

After a ten-month inquiry into the matter, the Commons home affairs committee believes police should be given increased cyber-powers, training and resources in order to help deal with the threat. Additionally, the MPs said a dedicated cyber-espionage team should be created, in order to respond to attacks.

According to the report, Internet crime has become more valuable than drug crime; the committee heard evidence from the online security firm Norton, who believe the global cost of Internet crime currently stands at around £250 billion. To put this into perspective, this number eclipses the annual value of the global trade in marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, which are valued at around £187 billion. They believe the lucrativeness of online crime, in combination with shorter sentences and lack of enforcement, has paved the way for increased ‘e-crime’ and resulted in its unprecedented expansion.

“We are not winning the war on online criminal activity. We are being too complacent about these e-wars because the victims are hidden in cyberspace.” said the chair of the committee, Labour MP Keith Vaz.

“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 No 1 target. Astonishingly, some are operating from EU countries.

“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.”

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David Cameron’s plans to implement a nationwide Internet block, unless users ‘opt-out’, has come under fire from the tech community.

Yet questions remain about how the government will implement such a massive operation without discriminating against all internet users with snooping and tracking ideas. Furthermore, whilst internet ‘black holes’ such as the Freenet project and Tor exist, which allow users to surf the internet anonymously without an IP address, how would the state enforce its agenda against the actual criminals who are aware of how to avoid detection? It may be the case that only the unsuspecting users end up being regulated, whilst those in need of policing can escape through web-proxies and Tor.

This is not the first time the open nature of the worldwide web has been a focal point of government review. David Cameron recently announced his intention to introduce new online safety measures, which has placed the Conservative Party at the centre of a controversial debate regarding Internet censorship; under Cameron’s plans, blocks against websites not deemed safe for children will become the norm in homes across the UK, unless inhabitants expressly ‘opt-out’.

Cameron’s new policy has been widely criticised throughout the UK however; the government has been quiet regarding how far ranging the block will be, which many believe will cover far more than online pornography. Furthermore, the tech community as a whole has panned Cameron’s plans, with many arguing that any Internet block enforced will be simple to bypass with everyday online tools, even for the less-technically minded.

The government’s recent gung-ho way of tackling Internet problems has painted an image of an establishment out of touch with technology. Many MPs (and the PM) have little idea of how it works, and would seek to regulate it if they could.

Although online crime is a concern and needs to be tackled, the government needs to go about this in the correct manner, and not simply hope further censorship will act as a deterrent. Likewise, spying on Internet activities is a recipe for disaster – just look at the NSA. The UK government needs to tread carefully and find a balance between allowing Internet freedoms whilst curbing e-crime. The problem is it is struggling to find this balance, and it does not look like the government is going to find a credible solution anytime soon.

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  • Vernon Stradling

    The technical community’s criticism of Cameron’s plan misses the point. Of course the technically literate can sidestep the controls but this is irrelevant. They are being put in place to prevent people (especially children) accidentally stumbling across this material. They are not intended to prevent the deliberate access of this material by adults.
    On the wider point of cyber crime, I completely agree. It’s hardly surprising that the crime figures are down. Why go out on a dark and stormy night, shinning up drainpipes to commit burglary, when you can stay at home in the warm with a can of lager, go online to order to a pizza and commit a crime, with no fear of being caught?

    • Tristan Kitchin

      I have to disagree, the technical community have made a valid point. You do not need to be technically literate to bypass a government block; it is actually very simple, and anyone can do it by through the use of a proxy. If you Google ‘proxy’ you’ll find plenty of websites through which you can get past any controls placed on your Internet connection, and therefore access unsuitable content. Children can, and I assure you they already do, use such services in order to sidestep Internet blocks.

      If anything, the government’s plans are lulling parents into a false sense of security. The government should be teaching parents abut the importance of online security and being aware of what their children look at when they surf the internet, instead of implementing an outright block and hoping the problem subsides.

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