Hackers to face the same jail time as killers
Computer hackers will be punished as harshly as murderers under new plans unveiled yesterday.
Stirring deadly civil unrest by cutting off food supplies or energy networks through sabotaging computer systems could bring life sentences.
The British Computer Misuse Act will be amended to include an aggravated offence of unauthorised access to a computer.
The existing offence of impairing a computer only carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment.
British ministers believe that punishment does not reflect the potential damage to the British economy and risk to human life posed by an attack by internet terrorists, or a lone hacker working from a bedroom.
The threat has grown as businesses and government become more reliant on interconnected computer networks.
A major cyber attack on essential networks such as the National Grid, police computers or supermarkets' distribution systems could trigger "severe social disruption", the British Home Office fears, according to officials.
Under a Serious Crime Bill, cyber attacks that result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security will carry a life sentence.
Attacks that cause serious economic or environmental damage will carry a 14-year prison sentence.
Britain has not seen such an attack yet.
However, cyber attacks are rated as a "tier one" threat by the UK government's National Security Strategy, alongside international terrorism or major accidents.
They are ranked as less grave threats than a chemical or nuclear attack, or an invasion of a UK overseas territory.
The Serious Crime Bill will also create a new offence related to the possession of "paedophilic manuals".
Sexual predators who download manuals on how to groom their victims will face the same sanctions as terrorists who download guides on bomb-making. (© Daily Telegraph, London)