PCeU to be rolled into National Crime Agency

The government is to place the Metropolitan Police Central e-Crime Unit inside the new National Crime Agency, as it regroups previously dispersed units into a single organisation supported by regional e-crime hubs
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The Metropolitan Police Central e-Crime Unit will be rolled into the National Crime Agency, under a government revamp of agencies fighting cybercrime.

James Brokenshire MP

The Met Police Central e-Crime Unit will form a part of the new National Crime Agency, Home Office minister James Brokenshire has said. Image credit: Home Office

The PCeU, a London-based unit specialising in high-level e-crime such as Zeus botnet fraud and international gangs, was spun off from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in 2009. It will become part of the FBI-style National Crime Agency once it is set up after the 2012 Olympic Games, according to Home Office crime and security minister James Brokenshire.

"The National Crime Agency will be the centre for the new National Cyber Crime Unit, combining the work of Soca e-crime and the work of the Police Central e-Crime Unit," Brokenshire told ZDNet UK at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee enquiry into cybercrime on Monday. "How we are able to deliver with regional and local capability, and how that work all draws together, that is very much part of the design work we are undertaking."

Within the National Cyber Crime Unit, Soca will provide intelligence capabilities, while PCeU will investigate e-crime and act as a point of information exchange between other police forces. The government aims to improve the UK's response to cybercrime with the merging of existing agencies.

"That combined capability, with the added intelligence hubs, with the extra reach that the National Crime Agency will have, will again [provide] a further step-change in terms of the response that we give around cyber[crime]," Brokenshire said.

Over the years, Soca and other agencies have come under fire over their response to cybercrime, with businesses pointing out that they must report crime to several separate agencies.

Commons Science and Technology Committee chair Andrew Miller MP welcomed the formation of the central cybercrime unit, saying high-volume, low-impact crime needs to be tackled.

"It is a continuum of crime, where people slide up and down a scale," Miller told ZDNet UK. "Somebody who's engaged in a Nigerian scam today could equally be involved in a large-scale money laundering scam tomorrow, because it's part of their work programme. We can't compartmentalise this area of crime fighting, it has to be dealt with as a continuum.

"We need intelligence coming in from all angles, including the little old lady who gets an advert for Viagra, trying to con money off her. That all needs to come into a central location so it can be filtered, and there can be a focus on where the best targets are to do the most damage to the criminals."

Regional cybercrime hubs

In addition, the police plan to set up three regional e-Crime Units to act as hubs for response to incidents, Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Janet Williams told the committee hearing on Monday. The hubs will be located in the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the East Midlands, she said.

"Cyber[crime] is damaging our economy, and it is damaging our citizens," said Williams, who leads the Association of Chief Police Officer's (ACPO) e-crime team. "Policing has struggled because we didn't have the resources or the capability in dealing with this sort of level of criminality... but now I think we are getting there."

The hubs will have a "symbiotic relationship" with PCeU and each have the capability to deal with e-crime in their own right, she noted. They will also provide support for other units, for example in people-trafficking investigations.

In addition, the hubs will act as "mini PCeUs", and will be ready to launch in February, PCeU head Charlie McMurdie said.

At the moment, the East Midlands and Yorkshire police have technical surveillance units, and Yorkshire has a high-tech crime unit. The technical surveillance units have the ability to remotely access suspects' computers. ACPO had not said whether these units will be part of the regional hubs at the time of writing.

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