European Union justice ministers agreed on Friday to a new legal code designed to clamp down on hackers, virus spreaders and ultimately terrorists and criminal gangs that might attempt to disrupt information networks.

The framework decision they took together creates a new criminal offense: ‘illegally accessing an information system’. It also recommends prison sentences in serious cases. The decision must be written into national laws, after the European Parliament is allowed to give its opinion on the text.

“This is a very important instrument as there is a growing and worrying concern of organized criminalizing communication networks to launch attacks against information systems for their own purposes,” the 15 ministers said in a joint statement.

“There is evidence of attacks against information systems, in particular as a result of an increasing concern at the potential of terrorist attacks against information systems which form part of the critical infrastructure of the member states (the EU),” the ministers said.

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