Malicious software - designed to infect computers to steal bank details and identity information - poses a growing threat in the UK as more people use the internet and an increasing proportion of economic activity takes place online. MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee say the Government must do more to help the public understand how to stay safe online.
Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said:
"Despite the increasing use of malware, the internet is still a reasonably safe place to go about one’s business, provided users take a few sensible precautions.
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.
Knowledge is the best defence against fear, 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 eighty per cent 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.
Many Government services are set to move to online provision either directly or through a range of providers. The Government 'digital by default' policy will increasingly require those in receipt of Government benefits and services to access these online. The committee raises concerns that the scheme will be of greater use in protecting the Government against welfare fraud than the individual user against crime.
Andrew Miller MP added:
"In response to this report, 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."
It would be possible to impose statutory safety standards on software sold within the EU, similar to those imposed on vehicle manufacturers, but the MPs say they would prefer a solution based on self-regulation. The report calls on the industry to demonstrate that self-regulation is an effective way forward and that voluntary commitments can provide sufficient incentive for the industry to improve security in a fast moving competitive marketplace. If it cannot do the Government should investigate the potential for imposing statutory safety standards.