Met criticises local police e-crime response

Plans to set up a central e-crime unit are being welcomed by senior police officers who have expressed concerns about local police responses
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Senior police officers have criticised local police responses to reports of e-crime, and have welcomed plans for a national police centre to co-ordinate cybercrime-fighting efforts.

Currently cybercrime reporting is not taken seriously enough at a local level, according to Detective Inspector Brian Ward of the Metropolitan Police.

"If you walk into a local police station, your conversation will last 30 seconds and you'll walk out no wiser than when you walked in. It's the problem of lack of [local] police awareness of e-crime," Ward told ZDNet UK.

"Police tend to put things in boxes — if it doesn't happen on their ground they tend to push it somewhere else," Ward added.

"There should be a centre which runs 24/7 for the reporting of e-crime," said Ward.

According to Detective Inspector Charlie McMurdie of the Metropolitan Police, there is currently "a lack of knowledge and understanding of e-crime by front-line officers" that needs to be addressed. This is due to a traditional geographical focus on fighting crime which doesn't translate to e-crime because of its global nature.

"[Front line officers] don't necessarily understand where the offence took place," said McMurdie.

The Metropolitan Police has plans to set up a central e-crime unit to act as a single point to collect and collate e-crime reports, share intelligence, co-ordinate e-crime responses and centralise standards, according to McMurdie.

"We need joined-up policing," said McMurdie. "One victim may go to one local police station, but there may be 10,000 victims around the country. We'll take all of the notifications and decide whether to take any preventative action. We'll look at all of the intelligence and decide whether to investigate."

The problem with the current lack of co-ordination is that many thousands of victims may have been affected by e-crime, but are reluctant to involve the police because of its seemingly petty nature.

Such cases would previously have been dealt with by the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), which was amalgamated into the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) in April. However, e-crime committed thousands of times over for small amounts seems to fall outside the remit of SOCA.

"There's been no national point of contact since the NHTCU folded," said McMurdie. "Who's co-ordinating the local response? No-one has been taking the lead on these issues." The new co-ordination body will be a joint collaboration between government, industry and law-enforcement units.

Politicians welcomed the plans. Labour MP Andrew Miller said that restructuring would "improve the concentration of expertise for specialist work".

Miller said that industry, especially the financial sector and Internet service providers (ISPs), should co-operate in collating information to present to the police.

"If ISPs come across anything suspicious there should be a collective reporting mechanism going to a central reporting point for e-crime," Miller told ZDNet UK."In a sense there should be an indexing of data. Millions of emails to the Met won't work. Somebody in industry itself should be pulling information into a central point."

ISPs greeted the plans of the police with enthusiasm. Emeric Miszti, UK security and abuse officer for Tiscali, said that after conducting research into spam, which ended last August, the ISPs findings had not been acted upon by the police.

"It was very difficult to report our findings. We took it to various police forces, but they couldn't establish geographicity. It becomes almost impossible to report," said Miszti, who did not blame law enforcers.

"Basically we're very keen to help the police, but they're restricted. They're trying to do a good job with limited resources, and limited staffing levels of people with the relevant skills sets," Miszti told ZDNet UK. "Plus, computing crime is often seen as wishy washy."

The Home Office recently recirculated guidelines on the reporting of e-crime, but admitted that current reporting procedures were inadequate.

"Yes, it is a problem, there's no doubt about that," a Home Office source told ZDNet UK. "We're looking at the reporting and collating mechanism at the moment."

The Metropolitan Police is currently setting up a business plan and looking at funding for the central e-crime unit, so a definite timescale for its operation could not be given, according to a spokeswoman.

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