The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is urging that the Government act to protect individual internet users against online crime.

The Committee describes the cyber-criminal threat as a threat to the future of the internet itself. It argues that the prevailing de-centralised approach to online crime is a threat to public confidence in the medium.

That approach contributes to a "wild west culture where the end use alone is responsible for ensuring they are protected from criminal attacks online," the Committee said.

They urge Government-led action to protect the internet against increasingly well-organised online criminals, who use technology to (among other things) steal people's identities and access people's bank accounts.

House of Lords Science and Technology boffins slam the Government's existing approach as "inefficient and unrealistic."

They observe: "Instead of acting to protect individuals, or providing incentives for the private sector to act, Government continues to insist that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own security."

As a matter of urgency, Government must review its decision to require online frauds to be reported to the banks rather than police in the first instance. "Victims of e-crime should have acknowledgment from law enforcement bodies that a serious crime has taken place," the Lords Commmittee said.

Cops and robbers

The Lords Committee also recommends Government should increase the resources and skills available to police and the judiciary to catch and prosecute cyber-crimminals.

They want to see a police-run centralised and automated e-crime reporting system and recommend the introduction of a data security breach notification law to force proactive action from banks and other online firms.

They also believe software and hardware companies should be made legally liable for damages suffered by cutomers as a by-product of security flaws in the products they sell. A kite mark of security for internet services is also proposed.

Lord Broers, chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, said: “We are firm believers in the internet. It is a huge force for good. But it relies on the confidence of millions of users. At the moment it seems that it is increasingly perceived as a sort of ‘wild west’, outside the law. People are said to fear e-crime more than mugging. That needs to change, or else confidence in the internet could be destroyed.

“You can’t just rely on individuals to take responsibility for their own security. They will always be out-foxed by the bad guys. We feel many of the organisations profiting from internet services now need to take their share of the responsibility. That includes the IT industry and the software vendors, the banks and internet traders, and the ISPs.

“The state also needs to do more to protect the public, not only the government itself, but regulators like Ofcom, the police and the court system.

“You can’t legislate for better internet security. But the Government can put in place incentives for the private sector to up their game. And they can invest in better data protection and law enforcement. It’s time to act now, before it’s too late.”

The report Personal Internet Security is published by The Stationery Office, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. It will be made available online here.