Users get their say about the Web

YouTube users are being invited to tell Europe's political and technology leaders how the internet can improve the world.

Any one of the Web's 1billion users can now upload a short clip to the video sharing website to have their say on the future of the internet.

Issuing the invite , the OECD said it would upload its own response to user ideas and air some of them in a Future of the Internet debate with 40 EU ministers this month.

At its heart, the debate will hear how the Web can cope under the weight of increasing demand, while driving innovation and hosting/enabling new communication services.

But this can be done only if the "borderless" environment of the Web is securely developed, and respects privacy, an increasing challenge for policy-makers.

So states a pre-meeting policy briefing released by the OECD yesterday, which makes clear that IT security, specifically malicious software, will be top of the agenda.

"The most surprising aspect of this discussion is that it is happening at all," said Graham Titterington of Ovum, the software and IT analyst.

"It shows that decision-makers at the highest level are seriously concerned that malicious activity might derail the growth of the online economy, with massive ramifications for the wider economy."

In its briefing, the OECD said current efforts to tackle the multi-million pound business of cyber-crime are fragmented, reactive and losing out to the pace of technology.

"When thousands of personal records can be stored on a laptop or USB key, the loss or theft of that device can pose a major problem.

"The information could be used for fraud or identity theft purposes, it could be made public and severely damage a large number of individuals' privacy or it could simply be lost or damaged if no backup copy had been made."

The meeting of minds to tackle cyber-crime is timely: this week a survey of 7,000 European internet users found that one fifth have suffered from internet crime.

Italians fared worst with 32% of users impacted, closely followed by the UK with 32%, according to the survey by Ipsos, commissioned by AVI Technologies.

More than a third of users said availability of information on how to fend against cyber-crime is poor, and adds to the fear factor of falling victim.

European users said they believe they are now more likely to experience a type of cyber-crime than traditional crime like burglary, assault or mugging.

Little wonder, then, that OECD ministers will use their upcoming meeting in Seoul to explore "proactive" not "reactive" approaches to tackling the threat, a principle IT security experts would endorse.

"Ultimately it is a balance of pain," Mr Titterington said of the ministers' task

"How does the cost of upheaval compare with the cost of living with today's levels of criminality and any increase that is likely over the coming years?

"We have sleep-walked into the current situation because we have built on systems that were never intended for their current type of use, and the situation has been aggravated by mistakes along the way."

Problematically for policy makers, these 'systems' – the internet - are now critical infrastructures that enable national infrastructures and industries worldwide.

"The monitoring and control of power grids and water plants, for example, often depend on the functioning of underlying IP-based networks," said the OECD.

"Most industrial control systems that monitor and control critical processes are increasingly connected, directly or indirectly (through corporate networks), to the internet and therefore face new threats."

The group said EU ministers will join with business and technology leaders to hear that protecting the internet - a "black box of unknowns" - is a "public policy priority." Web users can make their voices heard via YouTube.

The forum's main proposal will be to call for a "policy framework" to govern the use and development of the internet, which should be structured, adaptable, and co-ordinated across borders.

But this language in the OECD's briefing has analysts worried. "Politicians are not renowned for their ability to bear short-term pain for long-term gain," Mr Titterington said.

"OECD ministers will need to show great bravery and foresight if the meeting is to achieve anything more than fine words."

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