The UK government is to invest more than £850m to develop and maintain what it calls “cutting-edge” capabilities to tackle cyber threats.
“Crime is at record low levels and this government is taking action to tackle the cyber threat, investing more than £850m through the national cyber security programme,” the Home Office told ITV news.
The statement comes after a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee said that, despite being the preferred target of online criminals in 25 countries, the UK is still complacent about cyber crime.
The report said funding and resources for tackling online crime – which includes identity theft, industrial espionage, credit-card fraud and child exploitation – has not been sufficiently allocated.
The Police Federation of England and Wales said it was concerned that “relentless cuts to policing” are continuing at a time when there is a burgeoning cyber crime industry.
The federation said the committee report highlights how the government message – that its reforms are working because crime is falling – is over-simplistic and misleading.
“Crime is clearly changing, not falling at the rate the figures suggest, and an unknown but an extremely high number of offences are going unreported,” the police federation told ITV news.
The cross-party committee also called for tougher sentences for online criminals and improved training for police officers to deal with the growing threat.
"We are not winning the war on online criminal activity. We are being too complacent about these e-wars because the victims are hidden in cyber space,” said committee chairman Keith Vaz.
"If we don't have a 21st century response to this 21st century crime, we will be letting those involved in these gangs off the hook,” he said.
But City of London Police commissioner Adrian Leppard – the most senior policeman in the country on online fraud – warned the committee that a quarter of the 800 specialist internet crime officers could be axed as spending is cut, according to Sky news.
The committee expressed concern that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (Ceop) is having its budget cut by 10% over four years and its chief executive Peter Davies is leaving.
The Home Office said in its latest statement that the new National Crime Agency will include an elite National Cyber Crime unit to target the most serious offenders and provide enhanced intelligence for Ceop so it can protect even more children from harm.
“But we know we need to keep pace with criminals as they target the web and so we continue to consider ways to ensure the police and security services have access to communications data,” the spokesman added.
Such powers were included in the controversial draft Communications Data Bill – dubbed "the Snoopers’ Charter" – but the bill was shelved earlier this year after a public outcry.
Campaigners widely criticised the draft bill as an assault on civil liberties and a report by the cross-party intelligence and security committee, appointed by the prime minister, said the bill needed more work, in a report published in February.
Read more about the draft Data Communication Bill
- Spirit of snoopers’ charter lives on in Queen’s Speech
- Snooping bill needs more work, say MPs
- Parliamentary committee joins criticism of draft communications data bill
- Draft Data Communications Bill a security risk, says Jimmy Wales
- Draft Communications Bill will be ineffective, says ICO
- Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales slams Draft Communications Data Bill
- Campaigners slam snooping Communications Data Bill
- Why the Data Communications Bill is proportionate, measured and necessary
However, the government did sneak in a mention of new, potentially controversial proposals on investigating cyber crime in the Queen’s Speech in May.
It emerged that the government plans put forward proposals to enable law enforcement agencies to access the “who, when, where and how” of communications, but not the content, to investigate and prosecute serious crimes.
The government said it was committed to ensuring law enforcement and intelligence agencies had the powers they need to protect the public and ensure national security.
In an attempt to quash the criticism that dogged the draft Communications Data Bill, the government said the new proposals were about keeping the public safe – not “indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public”.
The government provided no details of the proposals, but said it was working with services providers to find a way of knowing who used a certain internet protocol (IP) address at a given point in time to identify who actually sent an email or made a Skype call under investigation.
“This may involve legislation,” the government said, indicating that it is determined to give law enforcement the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals online, and that claims of victory by civil liberties groups may have been premature.