Police to become masters of cybercrime

The police are to get new training, including a Masters degree, to help them tackle crimes involving computers

UK police forces are developing new training to help officers tackle crimes that either directly or indirectly involve a computer, including a Masters degree in cybercrime.

The police force is often criticised for not being savvy enough to handle even unsophisticated computer related crimes. Apart from specialist cybercrime teams, such as the Hi-Tech Crime Unit, the police regularly demonstrate that they are unprepared and under resourced to handle the recent explosion in computer-related crimes.

Nigel Jones, who is responsible for the police's high-tech crime training, said the police have stepped up their staff training by introducing compulsory courses on cybercrime for all new recruits, and by helping specialist officers learn how to deal with a crime scene that involves computers. He has also set up the framework for the new Cybercrime Masters degree at Canterbury Christchurch University, which should begin in 2005.

Jones is head of Centrex, which is a non-profit organisation that runs the Hi-Tech Crime Training Centre, which is in charge of educating officers from the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and other law enforcement agencies.

"Officers need to recognise potential sources of evidence at a crime scene, and as any crime scene can contain digital evidence, they need to know what evidence to collect and what to do with it," said Jones.

Chris Watson, a senior forensic investigator at data recovery and forensic investigation firm Ibas UK, agreed that there is a general lack of technical knowledge in the police force. He said that investigations are often ruined by officers who do not realise that when they touch a suspect's computer, they could be tampering with a crime scene.

Watson gave an example of a time when a suspect's computer had been seized and he was asked to do a forensic  investigation of the machine. The officers concerned said they knew the machine contained suspicious files but when he asked them how they knew, they admitted to turning the computer on and opening a number of documents, which rendered the forensic investigation useless because the contents of the hard drive had changed.

"The thing to get into the policemen's head is that a computer is a crime scene like any other. They wouldn't dream of doing their own DNA tests on a blood-soaked dagger, so why do it here?" Watson said.

Centrex's Jones said other areas of training for the police include general information for non-computer specialists, such as child-protection officers.

"Child-protection officers are taught how to deal with children and suspects but they are not taught how to deal with technology. If you take a paedophile investigation, an officer may go to a house and be fully aware of the surroundings when it comes to the terrestrial evidence but they may not consider that the computer in the corner contains pictures of child abuse," Jones said.