Funding boost allows national unit to double manpower...
The Police Central e-Crime Unit will be able to double its manpower thanks to £30m of new fundsPhoto: Shutterstock
The head of the UK's national cybercrime policing unit says fresh funding will help it prevent £500m of damage to the economy over the next four years.
The government has allocated about £30m to fund the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) until March 2015, to aid in its work leading national investigations into serious online fraud and theft, and improving the ability of local forces to tackle e-crime.
The cash will let the 41-strong unit more than double its manpower to about 90 staff and press ahead with plans to pilot regional centres for digital forensics and cybercrime investigations.
It is a significant cash boost for the Metropolitan Police-based unit - which only had £7m of funding for its first three years of operation - but is seen by some as a relatively small figure compared with the £27bn the government estimates cybercrime costs the UK annually.
PCeU head detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie said the new cash should allow the unit to meet its target of preventing £504m worth of cybercrime-related damage to the UK economy over the next four years.
McMurdie said the ambitious target was based on PCeU's past performance, adding that last year the PCeU had stopped economic damage and demonstrated returns estimated to be worth 21 times as much as it cost to run the unit.
"We have still got a relatively small team dealing with a massive volume of cybercrime," she said.
"We are punching above our weight because of the superb relationships that we have within UK industry and international partners who are working with us."
Since the unit was formed it has helped tackle several major international cybercrime gangs - recently bringing down the GhostMarket website where hundreds of thousands of stolen credit card details were traded, and working with the FBI and other international investigators on cracking an alleged multimillion-pound Zeus fraud ring.
McMurdie said PCeU investigations had benefited from ...
...working closely with the banks and other financial institutions that were part of its virtual taskforce.
"This is them working with us around a specific attack to share and develop the intelligence relating to that attack," she said.
"It's about better engagement with industry and two-way sharing of intelligence, and industry working with law enforcement rather than just remaining a victim and us passing information to them."
McMurdie said the arrangement had reduced from weeks to hours the time taken to follow the money trail from mules - the money middlemen - through to the actual fraudsters.
As evidence of the effectiveness of the taskforce, McMurdie cited Operation Poplin - in which the PCeU broke up a cybercrime scam where stolen identities were used to steal £726,000 from bank accounts.
"That clearly demonstrated the benefits of a time-critical response to cybercrime - potentially that would have been a six- to 12-month investigation but from start to finish took three and a half weeks," she said.
As part of its brief to improve the ability of local police to tackle cybercrime, the unit has been working on helping develop regional hubs, with forces pooling cybercrime investigators and intelligence, and sharing and standardising digital forensic tools and expertise.
McMurdie said the regional cybercrime hubs "will take on those types of larger cybercrime investigations that a lot of forces don't have the skill set or resources dealing with cybercrime per se [to take on].
"If we have a target, and the bulk of the victims or suspects are within a particular area, then that's the opportunity to task that case out [to regional centres]."
A pilot of the regional digital forensic model will begin in the East Midlands in the next few weeks.
The PCeU is also continuing to work with the Association of Chief Police Officers on testing a series of digital forensic tools that would give officers the ability to run a piece of software on a machine and recover potential evidence.
McMurdie said such tools would help prevent police from having to seize more computing equipment than was needed to prosecute a case and cut the burden on police digital forensic teams.