A European Union-wide advisory body this week called for security breach disclosure regulations tougher than those in the US as a step toward raising awareness of the seriousness of security threats.

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), the EU's top security body, said governments, businesses and consumers are still underestimating the scope of the IT security problem, in part because of the lack of transparency when breaches occur.

"Internet security is extremely important, considering how much business takes place online now. We don't want infrastructures to be disrupted, we don't want a digital 9/11 to happen," said Andreas Pirotti, executive director of ENISA.

Enterprises still see IT security mainly in a negative light, as a cost centre, while EU citizens are not aware of their responsibility in the security chain, ENISA said in a white paper on the topic.

One of the key factors in changing this situation must be the improvement of the reporting of incidents such as attacks and the loss of personal data, ENISA said.

"One of the cornerstones in developing a culture of security is improving our knowledge of the problem," the agency stated.

ENISA acknowledged that many organisations are unwilling to disclose breaches, particularly in sensitive industries such as banking.

"Reliable and comprehensive data on such incidents are difficult to obtain for many reasons, ranging from the rapidity with which security events can happen to the unwillingness of some organisations to disclose and publicise security breaches," ENISA stated.

Regardless of the reluctance of some enterprises, reporting of security breaches must be made mandatory in order that the threat can be quantified, ENISA said.

ENISA is calling on member states to put pressure on the EU to bring in mandatory reporting regulations, and wants the regulations to be imposed at an EU-wide level.

This would be a step beyond reporting regulations in the US, which differ from state to state.

Any proposed regulations would need to be developed based on dialogue between all the different players involved, to ensure the appropriate checks and balances are in place, ENISA said.

Because of the complexity of the issues and the large number of different types of players involved, ENISA itself is proposing to act as a centre for information sharing amongst the different organisations.

The advisory body was created in 2004 as a temporary body to oversee online security measures across the 27 countries of the EU. It was supposed to finish its mandate in 2009 but the European Commission wants to extend its tenure up to 2011.

The body also called for new legislation to police social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, in particular with regard to privacy issues.