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Singapore clamps down on hackers


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SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Ultra-strict Singapore has passed some of the world's toughest laws against computer hackers and virus writers, allowing police to arrest suspects before they strike, official documents show.

Drawing comparisons with the island's harsh Internal Security Act that allows detention without trial, the revised Computer Misuse Act gives authorities wide-ranging powers to police the Internet.

Ho Peng Kee, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, said the law aimed to fight "cyberterrorism," but would be used sparingly -- chiefly against threats to national security, essential services such as banking and finance, and foreign relations.

Passed on Monday, the bill allows police to take "pre-emptive action" based on credible information before hackers strike to protect computer networks from unauthorized entry.

People who hack or deface a Web site may be jailed for up to three years or fined up to S$10,000 ($5,800).

Singapore, a wealthy, predominantly ethnic Chinese state, hardened security in the aftermath of last year's Bali bomb attacks in neighboring Indonesia and again this year after a car bomb exploded in Jakarta killing 12.

"Instead of a backpack of explosives, a terrorist can create just as much devastation by sending a carefully engineered packet of data into the computer systems which control the network for essential services, for example the power stations," Ho said.

Critics said the legislation echoed Singapore's Internal Security Act, a Draconian law written by the island's former British colonial rules that allows for detention without trial and was used to halt communism in Singapore in the 1950s.

"Indeed it sounds very much like the cyber-space equivalent of the Internal Security Act," said Ho Geok Choo, a member of parliament.

"How does the police cybercrime unit intend to differentiate between a real intent to compromise our national computer networks from those that are merely 'wild' talk?," she said.

Singapore authorities have detained 33 suspected Muslim militants associated with the Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian network of Islamic radicals accused of planning to blow up the U.S. embassy and bomb other Western targets in Singapore.

In the latest security move, police banned street parking along the popular Mohamed Sultan Road bar district this week.

Ho Peng Kee told parliament on Monday that security services had seen a big increase in the number and sophistication of hacking attempts and "cyberattacks."

Instances of successful hacking in Singapore, known for its high broadband Internet penetration rates, climbed from 10 in 2000 to 19 in 2001 and 41 last year, he said. There were 24 cases in just the first half of this year.

"The number of unsuccessful attempts is probably many times more," he said. One network saw 6,000 hacking attempts in a three-month period, he added.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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