Cybersecurity cops bail to private sector

State police agencies are haemorrhaging the most talented officers in computer security to lucrative private sector positions.
Written by Darren Pauli, Contributor

State police agencies are haemorrhaging some of the most talented officers in computer security to lucrative private sector positions.

Australian bank notes

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These officers possess decades of training and experience, and police say they are constantly head-hunted by the private sector.

Losses have been increasing for some agencies as large consultancy firms ramp-up investment in IT security. In January, British defence giant BAE Systems gobbled up Australia's largest information security company Stratsec, and said it hopes to poach the nation's best minds as part of a hiring spree of over 130 staff.

However, police are reticent to disclose specific changes in headcount because those figures could compromise investigations.

Valdo Sorgiovanni, head of the Western Australia Police computer crime division, said some of the organisation's best officers have left in the last few years to take private consultancy jobs.

"The trend is, police are leaving," Sorgiovanni said. "Police management just need to be aware that these skilled officers are sought after in top industry, and we need to do everything we can to retain them."

"[Computer crime] is all very new. Three years ago we weren't investigating offences like card skimming and electronic evidence and identity fraud."

Sorgiovanni said police are put through expensive training courses to keep them abreast of the dynamic information security landscape, which serves as a lure for private industry. He said police often can't match private sector pay cheques, and must instead focus on work conditions and recognition.

Although the number of police moving to the private sector is low, they are highly qualified staff, Sorgiovanni said.

Computer crime experts have also jumped from NSW Police. "The private sector and federal agencies will always have the capacity to pay staff more," the NSW Police said.

"Technical experts in the field of cybercrime, computer and telephone forensics are very transient by nature — they become bored when the work type becomes repetitive."

The organisation said the movement of officers to government and private sectors was "nothing unusual", adding that it provides "the highest level of training" to staff.

Those officers who do leave for corporate jobs become "part of a widening network of contacts who continually work together" with police, the NSW Police said.

Queensland Police has declined to comment, but ZDNet Australia understands it has lost some of its most talented computer crime staff in recent years. It is understood to have the largest and best-funded computer crime unit in the country.

Victoria Police has moved several computer crime detectives out of the office and into hands-on work, enabled by a reshuffle that saw civilians replace sworn officers in the electronic investigations unit. The move was pitched to pull detectives into more investigative work and install civilians in roles that do not require sworn officers. The agency said about two officers have left the force following the restructure.

Both Tasmania Police — which recently opened an electronic crime unit — and South Australia Police said they have not lost any computer crime staff.

However, the South Australia Police commercial and electronic crime unit confirmed that computer crime specialists are "periodically approached by private enterprise [and] other government agencies regarding employment opportunities".

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