British business has questioned how a newly created, £7m police unit will help tackle a global cybercrime industry estimated to be worth £105bn.
From spring 2009, the Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU), announced on Tuesday by the Home Office, will co-ordinate law enforcement efforts against all online offences and lead national investigations into the most serious e-crime.
The Home Office admitted, however, that the unit will still not centrally collate all reports of e-crime from the country's 44 local forces, adding that the PCeU will work with the National Policing Improvement Agency to identify how e-crime reports made to local forces are handled.
The unit will also train officers in local forces in dealing with hi-tech crimes and co-ordinate "initiatives to crack down on online offences".
The PCeU will focus heavily on online fraud, particularly on cases reported to the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC). The NFRC will offer a single contact centre for the public to report all frauds, including online, when it launches next year.
Business, however, remained sceptical about how far the PCeU will be able to stretch its £7m funding over three years.
David Roberts, chief executive of the Corporate IT Forum — which represents some of the largest corporate users of IT, all with a turnover of more than £300m — expressed grave reservations about the funding.
He told ZDNet.co.uk sister site silicon.com: "£7m over three years seems a very small sum for a very large problem."
"We doubt whether it will be enough to tackle an issue that the Home Office itself calls a 'global menace' — something our own members know all too well. The PCeU seems a good start but it must be the beginning of something much bigger and better," said Roberts.
Gareth Elliott, policy adviser with the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "It is a step in the right direction but £7m does not seem like very much compared to the cost of cybercrime."
Detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie, co-architect of the PCeU, admitted that industry backing and expertise will be critical if the unit, staffed mainly by Metropolitan Police Service computer-crime specialists, is to succeed.
Speaking at an industry event organised by online-payments company SecureTrading last week, she said: "At the end of the day, we've got a handful of cops to deal with the high volume of frauds taking place. We can only do that with the co-operation of industry. We need to gather a huge amount of data."
The industry is keen to start working with the police to tackle a mounting menace, according to IT trade organisation Intellect, which said business must play a key role in the unit.
Carla Baker, programme manager at Intellect, said: "The government has earmarked £7m and this figure should be kept under constant review and increased according to the changing circumstances. Intellect looks forward to working with all criminal-justice agencies in the development and implementation of this new unit."
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said in a statement: "It is important that we stay one step ahead of criminals, who increasingly use sophisticated computer networks and the internet to commit and facilitate crime."