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U.S. urged to let companies 'hack-back' at IP cyber thieves

Jaikumar Vijayan | May 27, 2013
Best defense against American IP theft may be legalizing cyber offense, U.S. commission says.

The tools would alert companies to the theft of a protected file, and could help identify where it was stored by the cybercriminals. Such tools would also let IP owners render a stolen file inaccessible or lock down an authorized user's computer.

Such measures do not violate existing Internet laws and could reduce some of the incentive for hackers to steal IP, the commission said.

The IP Commission's report also cited what it said are growing calls to create a more "permissive environment" that allows American companies to launch offensive cyber actions against IP thieves. The offensives could help companies retrieve stolen information, alter it within an intruder's computer or network, or destroy it.

"Additional measures go further, including photographing the hacker using his own system's camera, implanting malware in the hacker's network, or even physically disabling or destroying the hacker's own computer or network," the report said.

The IP Commission acknowledges that cyber retribution measures are not currently legal under U.S. law, and should not be considered today and acknowledged that "An action against a hacker designed to recover a stolen information file or to degrade or damage the computer system of a hacker might degrade or damage the computer or network systems of an innocent third party."

Nonetheless, unless IP theft declines soon, the government may need to consider making at least some counterattacks legal..

Rights advocacy groups have in the past expressed concern over any move that would give content and IP owners too much leeway to hack back or take other private action against alleged IP thieves.

The main concern is that content owners could easily abuse such laws to go after a wide range of websites and entities that are deemed to engage in illegal activities.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill, which would have let U.S. companies go after rogue foreign sites, was derailed early last year by concerns that it would give U.S. copyright and IP owners inordinate power to shut down rogue foreign—and U.S.—sites.

Supporters of the bill contended it was needed to counter the theft of billions of dollars worth of IP. Critics expressed fear that the law would be used by U.S. content owners to one day go after the likes of YouTube and Flickr.

Critics have also expressed skepticism over the claim that the U.S. is losing hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues and tens of thousands of jobs as a result of IP theft. They contend that the numbers are being inflated to drum up support for measures that would arm the content industry with unprecedented powers to police the Internet.


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