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Britain Unveils Major Effort to Fight Global Online Crime

  • Stefan Bos

British Foreign Minister William Hague (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pose for photographers on a balcony during their meeting at Orban's office in the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, October 4, 2012.

British Foreign Minister William Hague (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pose for photographers on a balcony during their meeting at Orban's office in the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, October 4, 2012.

Britain has launched a multi-million-dollar global initiative to help fight organized criminals and terrorists using the Internet. The plan was rolled out at an international gathering in Budapest aimed at making the Internet more secure.

Speaking at the international "Budapest Conference on Cyberspace," British Foreign Minister William Hague said Britain wants to lead a worldwide effort to stem the rapidly growing number of cyberspace attacks threatening companies and governments.

"It has never been easier to become a cybercriminal than it is today," said Hague. "It is now possible to buy off-the-shelf malicious software designed to steal bank details for as little as 3,000 [British] pounds, including access to a 24-hour technical support line. As foreign secretary, I see frequent evidence of deliberate and organized attacks against intellectual and government networks in the United Kingdom."

Repelling attacks

He said that when London hosted the Summer Olympic Games, some 200 emails and dozens of British government departments were targeted by cybercriminals attempting to obtain sensitive government information.

Hague explained that earlier this year, hackers managed to steal the equivalent of 20 million pages of sensitive information from what he called "a well-protected international company." A large manufacturer allegedly was targeted during negotiations with an unidentified foreign government.

Hague said the attacks prompted his government to allocate an additional amount of roughly $1 billion over the next four years to improve the nation's Internet capabilities. Additionally, Britain will invest more than $3.2 million annually to help other less fortunate countries tackle cyber crime.

"Cybercriminals and terrorists should have no refuge online, just as they should have no sanctuary offline. I can therefore announce today that the United Kingdom is a developing a new 'center for global cybersecurity capacity building' in the United Kingdom," said Hague. "And, we will be investing 2 million [British] pounds a year to offer countries independent advice on how to build secure and resilient cyberspace, improving coordination and promoting good governance online."

Supporting free expression

Hague said concern over illicit Internet activities should not be used as an excuse to limit freedom of expression, even in some established democracies.

The minister did not mention conference host Hungary, although the country was criticized about legislation that opponents say limits press freedom and increases government control of online and traditional media.

Hungary's center-right government says the media law is in line with international standards.

Hague also criticized nations for jailing bloggers and shutting down human rights websites, as well as the video-sharing site YouTube, where a U.S. produced anti-Islam film was posted, prompting violent protests.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said the conference aims to better protect not just companies and governments but all users, including children.

"We must protect them, just as we need to enhance international security respecting human and civil rights. Our conference will strive to tackle these questions, which concern all of us and which determine our children's future," said Martonyi.

Supporting the program

Hungary hopes more countries will embrace the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which has been signed or ratified by nearly 50 nations since its inception in 2001.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who did not attend the gathering, said in a video message that Washington supports the international attempt to secure cyberspace.

The Budapest conference, which ended Friday, was centered on the theme "with trust and security for freedom and prosperity." More than 600 delegates from 60 nations, representing governments, the private sector, civil society and the scientific community, attended.

The event is the first follow-up gathering to the 2011 London Conference on Cyberspace. A similar meeting will be held in October 2013, in South Korea, one of the world's most Internet-savvy nations.

South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-Han has made it clear that besides fighting cybercrime, the Seoul gathering also wants to tackle "challenges" such as "personal data loss" and malicious content, including pornography, as well as cyberbullying and Internet addiction.

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