MPs call on government to help keep public safe online

MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee say the government must do more to help the public understand how to stay safe online.

MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee say the government must do more to help the public understand how to stay safe online.

According to the committee’s latest Malware and Cyber Crime Report, malicious software that steals identity and banking details poses a growing threat in the UK as more people use the internet and an increasing amount of economic activity takes place online.

Despite the increasing use of malware, the internet is still a reasonably safe place to do business, provided users take a few sensible precautions, said committee chair Andrew Miller.

“Government departments need to realise that better public information about computer safety could save huge numbers of people the hassle of having their personal details stolen,” he said.

Knowledge is the best defence against fear, said Miller, so the Government should focus on raising awareness of how to stay safe online, rather than scaring people about the dangers of cyber crime.

The committee is calling on the Government to launch a prolonged awareness raising campaign to increase public understanding of personal online security.

The report points out that 80% of protection against cyber-attack is routine IT hygiene. Yet currently there is no single first point of advice and help for consumers and much of the information about internet security that does exist online is often technical or jargon filled.

Television exposure is crucial to gain the widest possible exposure to the safety message, the MPs believe. They also want to see more done to promote and resource the existing government website Get Safe Online.

Advice from Get Safe Online should be provided with every device capable of accessing the internet and all government websites should link to the website and highlight the latest security updates.

“We are asking the Government to provide details of how they intend to engender greater trust in online products and services within the UK population.

“We are also demanding an assurance that the ‘digital by default’ approach will mean better and more secure, rather than merely cheaper, government services," said Miller.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security firm Sophos said simple, easy-to-understand language is by far the best way to help computer users understand how to protect themselves online, and Sophos is a keen supporter of the GetSafeOnline website.

“A key challenge however for sites and resources like this, is that they tend to be known about only by those already involved in IT security, rather than the average person in the street.  The only way to change this is by a properly funded broad awareness campaign,” he said.

Cluley said he hoped the report would result in further investment to support the international fight against cybercrime.

“A computer crime committed in Solihull could be perpetrated by a hacker based in St Petersburg, for example.  Investigating crimes with an international element is inevitably costly and complicated - but as this is the nature of the criminal behaviour, it must be addressed,” he said.

The report also highlights the need an independent way of measuring the cyber threat. Much of the data used by the report, said Cluley, is supplied by security suppliers, who could have a vested interest in hyping up the internet threat. 

“To avoid such accusations, proper systems must be put in place to make it easy for citizens to report internet crimes and malware attacks.  This could start with better training of the police force as to how cybercrime works, to make many computer users more comfortable in reporting cybercrime to their local police,” he said.

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