Brits happy to break cyber law if the price is right

A slim majority of British adults would be perfectly happy for the government and its allies to break international cyber security laws and norms, and almost as many feel they would be happy to support or engage in online cyber criminal activity themselves, given the right circumstances, according to a report.

The survey, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of the organisers of the upcoming International Cyber Expo fair in London, found 53% of Brits would be supportive of the government conducting offensive cyber activity in various scenarios.

The most “acceptable” scenarios to the general public include hacking to stop war crimes against civilians (25%), to stop terrorist organisations (24%), or to fight human rights abuses (21%) and organised crime (20%).

Smaller numbers came out in favour of hacking to stop dictatorships (16%), to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the UK (15%), and to uncover severe environmental impacts (13%).

It is known that the UK’s recently created offensive cyber unit, the National Cyber Force, has conducted offensive cyber operations against threats such as hostile nation states, terrorist groups, child sex offenders and financially motivated cyber criminals, as well as to counter disinformation campaigns. However, details of these operations have not been made public.

Those who said they would support or engage in online cyber criminal activity themselves were fewer in number, and their answers seem to suggest the general public has a slight hacktivist streak.

The circumstances they deemed acceptable included hacking in the defence of the UK if threatened (12%), to punish or stop a company having a negative impact on the environment (10%), to resolve a vulnerability within an organisation (10%), to right a personal wrong, such as being fired or bullied (10%), to protest human rights abuses (10%), to disrupt an ongoing physical war between other countries (10%), to get their own back on cyber criminals (9%), to prevent or stop animal cruelty (9%), to watch a TV show or film for free (9%), to stop the activities of problematic individuals (9%), to redistribute wealth (6%), and to defend religious beliefs (5%).

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“While it is encouraging that respondents want to see the UK government and its allies take a firm stand against war crimes, terrorism and human rights abuses, it is concerning that such a high percentage support breaking international law or would engage in criminal activities themselves – particularly among younger people,” said Simon Newman, CEO of the Cyber Resilience Centre for London and a member of International Cyber Expo’s Advisory Council.

“Vigilantism is never the answer to deal with these threats, however serious they are, and any individual who takes the law into their own hands is likely to face significant consequences.”

Demographic differences

The survey also found that women were more likely to say they would never support offensive cyber activity as opposed to men (26% to 27%) and would never engage in cyber criminal activity themselves (40% to 26%).

Those who proclaimed themselves in favour of such activity also skewed younger, with the older generation showing greater opposition.

Only 11% of 16 to 24 year-olds said they were against the UK and its allies breaking international security law, rising to 34% among the over 55s; and only 10% of 16 to 24 year-olds would never engage in cyber criminal activity themselves, rising to 54% among the over 55s.

A separate study published by Kaspersky earlier this year found that a tenth of children aged under 17 believed they could successfully hack into a website or someone else’s online account, and 13% would try to do so if someone else dared them to.

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