New laws to tackle cyber crime and tougher penalties for computer offences will be in force later this year.
Australian Federal and State Attorney Generals have agreed to give priority to the new offences and penalties proposed in the Model Criminal Code Report, which updates present criminal law relating to technology.
New computer offences listed in the report specifically target denial of service (DoS) attacks and propose a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The list also includes a modern sabotage offence that carries 25 years imprisonment.
The Federal Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said the need to recognise computer crime offences was demonstrated last year when hack attacks affected "everything from commerce Web sites to government facilities and business e-mail systems".
Ellison said the widespread use of electronic communications and the rise of the Internet to handle shopping and banking makes the security and reliability of these networks critical.
"We are also introducing laws to penalise those who possess or trade in programs and technology designed to hack into other people's computer systems, so action can be taken before they do harm. The penalty for this offense is three years imprisonment," he said.
Ellison said the report is in line with international developments like the Council of Europe draft cyber crime treaty, which aims to standardise global laws. The 43-nation council has been debating the treaty for four years, which is now up to its 25th draft and should be ready for signature by year's end.
Additionally, Australasian Police Commissioners met in Adelaide recently to examine a national electronic crime strategy. The e-crime strategy was released last year and recommends the introduction of accredited IT security courses at universities and closer cooperation with private industry, including the outsourcing of computer crime investigations.
More recently the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Palmer, flagged the idea of creating cyber-cops, cyber courts and cyber judges to cope with the exponential growth of electronic crime. The international policing conference heard speakers from the Netherlands, the FBI and Interpol in recognition of Australia's high uptake of new technology.
According to the National Office of the Information Economy, Australia has the third-highest per capita usage of the Internet after Finland and the US. Internet service providers increased by nearly 3000 per cent between 1995 and 2000.