MPs: Police need to learn about e-crime

Official efforts to fight online crime are pitched at too high a level— at gangs and terrorists — to help people with the everyday e-crimes that affect them, a Commons committee has said, urging more investment in education

MPs have called for police forces to get more training to deal with minor online crimes, as such e-crimes often end up taking second place to cybercrime gangs and other headline-grabbing incidents.

In addition, the police should share more information with the public about online threats, the Commons Science and Technology committee said in a report released on Thursday.

"The internet can be a confusing place, and that provides opportunity for criminals and criminal behaviour," the committee said in its report (PDF). "High-profile cases of criminal behaviour tend to be those that involve large sums of money or threaten national security."

"There are, however, dangers for everyday users of the internet that are often lower down the priority agenda for regulators, legislators and the police," it added.

Victims of online crimes should feel able to report these to the police and expect to be given useful advice about dealing with the aftermath of the incident, the MPs said.

"Towards that end we recommend that the government take steps to improve general knowledge about cybercrime among all policemen in the UK, as well as focussing on the specialist units as outlined in the Cyber Security Strategy," the report said.

The Cyber Security Strategy, introduced in November, is pitched at too high a level to have an effect on the everyday crimes affecting ordinary people, the MPs noted.

Overall, the MPs concluded that consumers need to be better informed about risks, malware and scams. Official e-crime education efforts are largely focused on Get Safe Online, but this needs "substantial investment and improvement", they said in the report.

Get Safe Online, funded by public and private sector organisations, needs to integrate up-to-date malware information from ISPs in an online database, along with data from premium-rate number regulator PhonePayPlus, the committee said. In addition, the site should be used as a two-way communication mechanism between the public and businesses, and the police.

"We recommend that the government invest in the Get Safe Online site to ensure that it integrates all of the relevant organisations necessary to provide a single authoritative source on which computer users could rely," the MPs said.

In addition, they said the website should be promoted on television, to reach a wide audience, and be cross-promoted by private sector companies.

Another issue is the lack of statistics about the scale and extent of e-crime. The UK Cyber Security Strategy recommended that Action Fraud be made into a reporting centre for financially motivated crime and that this data be integrated into Get Safe Online.


Sophos welcomed the report's recommendations, but said the committee appeared to rely on evidence given by security vendors for infection statistics. This could lead to public scepticism about the figures, according to the company's senior security consultant Graham Cluley.

"The data must be taken seriously," Cluley told ZDNet UK. "If the data primarily comes from people making money out of [computer security], people could say: 'Well, you would say that.'"

In response, a spokesman for the Science and Technology Committee said MPs took evidence from a balanced range of sources."The [report] is not working in the interests of security vendors," he told ZDNet UK.

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