EFF: EU anti-zombie law threatens security researchers

Tools don’t kill security, people do.

The European Parliament is considering a proposal that may criminalise the act of probing a web property for security flaws without explicit permission.

The EU directive “on attacks against information systems” focuses on the threat of botnets and harm caused by their anonymous operators, but the Electronic Frontiers Foundation is opposed to the criminalisation of tools to commit attacks against information systems.

EFF international rights director, Katitza Rodriquez and senior staff attorney Marcia Hofmann argued in a submission lodged with the European Parliament last year that the directive should focus on the intent, not the use of tools which can be deployed for good (defensive) or bad (attack) purposes.

Criminalising the possession, use, production or distribution of tools would threaten security testing that makes technology more robust, they argue in a renewed effort to persuade Europe to change the wording of a directive that purports to pick up where the European Convention on Cybercrime finished.

The US-based cyber rights organisation wants the European Parliament to address a clause that states that anyone probing a computer system would require explicit consent by including an exception for a “perpetrator does not have criminal intent”.

If Europe goes down the path the US has under its Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Europe risks criminalising breaches of a website’s terms of use, Rodriguez and Hoffman argue, which places the power of determining what is criminal in the hands of private parties rather than lawmakers.

“Criminalising breaches of website terms of use could turn millions of Internet users into criminals for typical everyday activities,” the EFF representatives argue.

The proposal also represents a threat to the public disclosure of security flaws and the security researchers’ that do this need protecting, the organisation says.

The EFF cites the recent work of two German academics that cracked the GMR-1 and GMR-2 encryption algorithms used by the likes of satellite provider, Thuraya.

“Public disclosure of this kind of research allows consumers to be better informed and aware that their communications are not actually protected, which in turn lets them make thoughtful choices about the technology they use. Hopefully, it could even inspire the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to formulate a stronger security algorithm that protects users’ privacy,” says the EFF.

Separately, in the US, security researcher [[xref: http://dankaminsky.com/2012/02/26/review/ |Dan Kaminsky|]] has penned a list of popular sites that do permit researchers to probe their systems, noting that the sites that do likely have "crack security teams" behind them.

These include Paypal, Facebook, 37 Signals, Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Mozilla and eBay.

Of course in the spirit of improving security, [[xref: https://cms.paypal.com/cgi-bin/marketingweb?cmd=_render-content&content_ID=security/reporting_security_issues |PayPal|]], for example, recommends that researchers disclose any flaws to it first before than publishing it on forums.

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