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New measures to cut off UK file sharers could do more harm than good, Sophos reports

August 2009 by Sophos

Sophos is reminding computer users and businesses of the importance of protecting internet connections and networks following news that the UK government will propose new laws to suspend internet connections where illegal file-sharing is suspected.

The new proposals will mean that home or business users suspected of illegal downloading will still receive warning letters from ISPs, but if they are believed to be continuing to share copyrighted material, internet connections will temporarily be suspended - a measure that was initially rejected by the British government’s Digital Britain report earlier this year as a step too far.

The penalties, thought to have been pushed through by business secretary Peter Mandelson, are likely to cause serious problems for both ISPs and users of Wi-Fi networks. Customers who are about to be cut off from the internet could claim that other computer users have been illegally using their internet connection - piggybacking - to download and share copyrighted material.

"Worryingly for businesses, if the alleged illegal downloads appear to originate from the workplace - will the entire company be disconnected from the net?," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "The bottom line is that people who illegally download material that they haven’t paid for aren’t going to have any qualms about using someone else’s internet connection. This not only means there are likely to be innocent victims, but it also gives the real pirates a plausible defence. These proposed laws to stop illegal file-sharing are not only unworkable, they’re ridiculous."

Wi-Fi theft is a serious problem for computer users. In 2007 Sophos polled 560 computer users on their Wi-Fi habits, finding that over half had stolen internet access in the past - a figure which is likely to have risen alongside the huge growth in popularity of wireless devices.

Businesses are advised to use application control solutions to block the unauthorised use of file-sharing clients in the workplace. In addition, business and home users should make sure that wireless networks are protected with the strongest levels of encryption to prevent neighbouring computer users and passers-by from illegally using their connection.

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