EU: Possession of Hacking Tools to Become a Criminal Offense

Cyber attacks on IT systems would become a criminal offense punishable by at least two years in prison throughout the EU under a draft law backed by the Civil Liberties Committee.

Possessing or distributing hacking software and tools would also be an offense, and companies would be liable for cyber attacks committed for their benefit.

The proposal, which would update existing EU legislation on cyber attacks, was approved with by 50 votes in favor, 1 against and 3 abstentions.

The proposal would establish harmonized penal sanctions against perpetrators of cyber attacks against an information system – for instance a network, database or website. Illegal access, interference or interception of data should be treated as a criminal offense.

The maximum penalty to be imposed by Member States for these offenses would be at least two years’ imprisonment, and at least five years where there are aggravating circumstances such as the use of a tool specifically designed to for large-scale (e.g. “botnet”) attacks, or attacks cause considerable damage (e.g. by disrupting system service), financial costs or loss of financial data.

Using another person’s electronic identity (e.g. by “spoofing” their IP address), to commit an attack, and causing prejudice to the rightful identity owner would also be an aggravating circumstance – for which MEPs say Member States must set a maximum penalty of at least three years.

MEPs also propose tougher penalties if the attack is committed by a criminal organization and/or if it targets critical infrastructure such as the IT systems of power plants or transport networks.

No word on how this would deal with security firms trying to test and help modify existing security firewalls. It appears just having the hacking tools would get you in trouble.


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