Tough new penalties for computer hackers who jeopardise national security may come into effect in Britain under measures introduced in the Queen's Speech overnight.
The UK Government wants life sentences to be imposed on hackers that sabotage computer networks and cause deadly civil unrest through cutting off food distribution, telecommunications networks or energy supplies, under a new Serious Crime Bill.
Currently, the law provides for a maximum sentence of ten years' imprisonment for those who commit the offence of impairing a computer. A new, aggravated offence of unauthorised access to a computer will be introduced into the Computer Misuse Act by the government, carrying far longer sentences.
A hack that causes deaths, serious illness or injury, or is found to seriously damage Britain's national security will be punished by life in prison under the proposed new law.
Environmental damage, or serious hurt to the economy through hacking could land offenders with a fourteen year stretch in gaol if the government gets its way.
As of today, Britain has suffered no such serious cyber attacks. The UK government's National Security Strategy [PDF] nonetheless puts hacking on par with terrorists incidents, international miltiary crises and major accidents or natural hazards, as the country's highest priority risk.