EU ministers seek to ban creation of 'hacking tools'

Critics say a draft directive doesn't account for malicious use of legal software

Justice Ministers across Europe want to make the creation of "hacking tools" a criminal offense, but critics have hit back at the plans, saying that they are unworkable.

Ministers from all 27 countries of the European Union met on June 9 to discuss European Commission proposals for a directive on attacks against information systems. But in addition to approving the Commission's text, the ministers extended the draft to include "the production and making available of tools for committing offenses".

This is problematic, as much legal and legitimate software could be put to criminal use by hackers. The draft mentions "malicious software designed to create botnets or unrightfully obtained computer passwords," but goes no further in attempting to clarify what "tools" might be subject to criminal sanctions. For example, the distinction between a password cracker and a password recovery tool is not specified. Nor is there any mention of legitimate use for testing. Many tools that could be used for hacking in the wrong hands, are used by system administrators and security consultants to probe for vulnerabilities in corporate systems.

Illegal access, illegal system interference and illegal data interference as well as instigating, aiding, abetting and attempting to commit offences are already crimes under current E.U. law. However, ministers want to harmonize penalties for illegal interception of computer data, and see the imposition of a minimum two-year sentence for the most serious crimes. They also want to oblige member states to collect basic statistical data on cybercrimes and to respond to urgent requests for information by other member states within eight hours.

The creation of hacking tools is already a criminal offense in the United Kingdom under the Computer Misuse Act and in Germany under the 202C law, and is also cited in the Budapest Cybercrime Convention. But if included in an E.U. directive, all 27 member states would be required to ban production of these so-called "tools" in national law.

The introduction of the laws in Germany in 2007 and the U.K. in 2008 met with fierce criticism. In Germany many legitimate websites shut down or moved over fears that they might be prosecuted.

German PHP security professional Stefan Esser wrote on his blog at the time that the law was not clearly written and allows too much interpretation. "While our government says that they do not want to punish, for example, hired penetration testers, this is not written down in the law," Esser wrote.

The ministers' proposals will now be put to the European Parliament, which must approve the text before it can become law. It is likely that MEPs will question some of the ministers' assumptions and will seek to better define what is meant by "tools".

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags european commissionsecurityExploits / vulnerabilitieslegislationgovernment

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?