Crime 'more serious online than off'

At the opening of first e-crime congress, delegates are told that high-tech crime should be treated as an aggravated version of the real-world equivalent

The level of organised crime targeting the Internet as a vehicle for its illicit activity is increasing sharply, according to the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.

In his opening address to the UK's first e-crime congress on Monday, DCS Hynds highlighted the significant threat posed by organised criminals. "Hi-tech crime is increasing significantly," he said. "The Internet provides organised crime groups driven by profit with lucrative opportunities in a relatively low risk theatre of operations.

Hynds said society must question the mindset that recoils from the thought of breaking into a house and stealing, but which condones the equivalent act in cyberspace. "Hi-tech crime is every type of crime but with a component placing it into the digital environment," he said. "This makes it an aggravated version of the original offence because it is able to operate instantaneously, remotely and with disregard for sovereignty and geography."

"As it becomes easier for criminals to target multiple victims, hide assets, and cover the evidence trail; I believe we must challenge the existing misguided perception that hi-tech crime is somehow less serious than its mainstream equivalent.

The e-crime congress is drawing together representatives from national and international law enforcement, industry, and government. Officers from Europol, Interpol and the FBI -- and the UK's law enforcement authorities are among those attending to discuss the threat of online crime. Key issues for debate are the scope of hi-tech crime, and partnership between organisations and law enforcement.

The growth of hi-tech crime has increasingly occupied lawmakers and law-enforcers lately. At Compsec 2002, police indicated that the battle against cybercrime has already been lost. Speaking at the Compsec conference, Rolf Hegel, head of Europol's serious crime department, said: "With cybercrime, it's become so obvious that we've lost the battle even before we've begun to fight. We can't keep up."

In October, Europol formed the High Tech Crime Center, a task force with a mission to coordinate cross-border cybercrime investigations in Europe. Hegel said the force is understaffed and under-resourced, but said he hoped it will begin to make a difference in future investigations.

For all security-related news, including updates on the latest viruses, hacking exploits and patches, check out ZDNet UK's Security News Section.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the Security forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.