New proposals to fight UK internet piracy are ridiculous

Filed Under: Data loss, Law & order

Skull and crossbones
According to media reports, the UK government will propose new laws today to disconnect computer users from the internet who are suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted music and movies.

Disconnected from the internet for being suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted material? How can it be just to be thrown off the internet without your guilt having been proven?

The new proposals will mean that users suspected of illegal downloading will still receive warning letters from their ISPs, but if they are believed to be continuing to share copyrighted material they will have their net connection temporarily cut off, although "it may be possible to retain basic access to online public services."

What's interesting is that this proposal was rejected by the British government's own Digital Britain report earlier this year as a step too far. So what can have possibly changed the government's resolve?

Business secretary Peter Mandelson seems to have decided to make life harder for internet pirates just days after he dined with media mogul (and well-known critic of illegal file-sharing) David Geffen while holidaying in Corfu.

Indeed, as reported in The Times and other newspapers on 16 August, Whitehall sources who work closely with the Business Secretary were surprised by his sudden interest in fighting internet piracy:

Whitehall sources on Peter Mandelson's sudden interest in Digital Britain

However, we'll have to believe that that's just a coincidence as Lord Mandelson's spokesperson has denied that the subject was discussed with billionaire David Geffen.

My feeling is that if penalties like this are put into law, it is likely to cause major headaches for ISPs and Wi-Fi users alike. For instance, customers who are about to be cut off from the net could claim that other people have been illegally piggybacking on their internet connection.

It's no secret that Wi-Fi theft is a big problem. Back in 2007 Sophos polled 560 computer users and found that a whopping 54 percent had stolen Wi-Fi internet access in the past - if those sorts of figures were around two years ago, imagine the scale of the situation now.

The bottom line is: people who illegally download material that they haven't paid for aren't going to have any qualms about using someone else's internet connection. This not only means there are likely to be innocent victims, but it also gives the real pirates a plausible defence.

And what if the alleged illegal downloads are made by staff in the workplace? Will the entire company be disconnected from the net? That could be harmful to the very businesses that Lord Mandelson is tasked with protecting.

Some workers do abuse corporate bandwidth to download copyrighted materials (rather than using their own home connections), so this is one of the reasons why firms should be using application control solutions to block the unauthorised use of file-sharing clients in the office.

To combat the problem of hijacked internet connections, computer users - whether at work or at home - must make sure they set up their wireless networks with security in mind, ensuring that strong encryption is in place to prevent neighbours and passers-by from illegally using their connection.

While there's no 100 percent solution to piracy, following simple advice like this can help innocent users protect themselves both from this risk, and that of hackers eavesdropping on communications and stealing information that can be used for identity theft.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.