SOCA: We are tackling e-crime

Serious Organised Crime Agency has admitted to 'a turbulent year', but has denied claims it's failing to address cybercrime

The Serious Organised Crime Agency has hit back at claims that it does not have the necessary remit or resources to tackle e-crime.

Bill Hughes, the director-general of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), said it had made progress in developing international relationships in the effort to combat cybercrime.

"It's rubbish that we're not tackling e-crime," said Hughes. "Through the NHTCU [National Hi-Tech Crime Unit — SOCA's predecessor], SOCA came to develop a range of approaches to deal with e-crime, increasing knowledge of crime and criminals. There was a need for international co-operation with partners, so we sent out invitations around the world. We wanted to prevent duplication and identify gaps [in police work], and share good practice, tools and techniques."

Speaking at the E-crime Congress in London on Tuesday, Hughes said that SOCA's achievements had also included developing good practice to combat criminals' advances in technology through a corresponding strategic effort with police. "Traditional criminals are exploiting technology — we're spreading knowledge of how police can exploit technology to combat that," said Hughes.

SOCA has 4,500 staff in total, and it employs 23 officers with key law-enforcement agencies overseas. The organisation has established relationships with all of the major law-enforcement bodies in the US and Australia — but it is also developing relationships with Russia and China.

The Home Office on Tuesday said it supported SOCA's e-crime law-enforcement efforts. "SOCA understands how enforcement needs to evolve to combat crime in the virtual environment," said Vernon Coaker, under-secretary of state at the Home Office.

SOCA was criticised in January by large UK businesses, which were concerned that they were not receiving guidance on combating cybercrime and online fraud. However, Hughes claimed that SOCA had been making efforts to establish relationships with businesses, but this had been hampered by companies not wishing to get involved, in case customers saw this as an admission of liability for security breaches. "We're building a partnership approach with the private sector. They've been a little bit reluctant to get involved with law enforcement because they think it's expressing liability, but [they're starting to get involved because] their customers are the citizens in communities. We need good working relationships with the private sector to understand how criminals are exploiting technology."

The director general said SOCA was also working with security vendors, such as Kaspersky, F-Secure, RSA, Symantec and Verisign. However, he admitted that SOCA had weathered a "turbulent" year since its inception, and that it was still falling short of having a long-term impact on crime. "Law enforcement in the UK is getting better and better, but we're not achieving the long-term impact on serious and organised crime that's needed. We need to target the serious players, and tackle the environmental factors that contribute to serious and organised crime," said Hughes.

SOCA was formed in May 2006 as an amalgamation of the NHTCU, National Crime Squad (NCS), National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the part of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that deals with with drug trafficking and associated criminal finance, and a part of UK Immigration dealing with organised immigration crime (UKIS).

"People came in from different agencies, and we needed to assimilate processes and techniques," Hughes told ZDNet UK. "Where there have been issues we've retrenched, gone back and found other ways, trying to find the right way through. Our first year has been very curate's egg — good in parts. It's been a bit turbulent. It's not been easy. In broad terms it's been a challenge to build up our own systems and maintain the impetus of the previous organisations — which we've done. We have a conviction rate of 94 percent that indicates the quality of the police work," said Hughes.