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Computer Misuse in the UK

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Computer Misuse termsComputer misuse is an interesting phrase. Interpreted in a light hearted way it suggests using a computer for various activities that the computer wasn’t intended for – eg. the keyboard as a hammer or the heat from the monitor screen as a sort of clothes dryer etc.

Of course the interpretation the phrase is supposed to define is using the computer for illegal or dubious purposes. Whilst surfing standard internet porn is not illegal, many companies would take a dim view if their employees were doing this during working hours. It’s also an activity that can upset other members of staff and quickly lead to problems and arguments in the office. Therefore companies class surfing porn as computer misuse and will often sack employees who are found doing it. Playing online games during working hours is a far less contentious issue but also considered by companies to be computer misuse as the employee is being paid by the company to work, not to play games. This is also often a sackable offence.

The term computer misuse is also intended to apply to computer crime, such as internet blackmail, hacking and phishing. All 3 of these activities are quite common. Computer viruses are an early example of computer misuse and were being written long before anyone had even thought of a computer misuse law. Computer viruses have now morphed into what is often referred to as malware.

Malware is basically any type of malicious computer software that is design to cause harm or damage. Actually, the definition of malware is rather long winded and complicated, Wikipedia have a good stab at defining the term here. There are many types of malware and one of the most interesting types are the ones that turn computers into network zombies – these are vast numbers of machines that are infected (almost always with the knowledge of the owner of the machine) with a malware program that allows them to be subtly controlled by criminal gangs. The gangs then use these zombie networks for an array of large scale criminal activities such as credit card fraud, money laundering and denial of service (DOS) attacks.

So already you can see that computer misuse is sometimes intentional (as in the above example of surfing porn during office hours) and sometimes not (where the owner has no idea their malware hijacked computer is being used for illegal purposes).

It’s easy to identify computer misuse when it’s intentional but as with most laws, the interpretation of the law of computer misuse can be tricky and rather long winded. Computer misuse is also interpreted and legislated differently by many countries. For those of us under UK law there’s a good computer misuse FAQ page on the Computer Science web site. The page discusses & defines computer misuse in both civil and criminal instances and goes into further detail about the actual process of computer misuse and committing computer crime.

It’s a good idea for both companies and individuals to be aware of the definitions of computer misuse and also what constitutes an offence, both criminal and civil. Presently, many of us believe we know what computer misuse is and think we are able to spot it, but this is only an a superficial basis. Reading the computer misuse FAQ shows that the law is actually for more reaching and involved than you may currently believe.

Written by Betty

December 20th, 2013 at 12:58 pm