Does government have the will to win against e-crime?

The Police Central E-Crime Unit is off to a flying start. To shut down a gang that used Trojans to defraud bank customers, charging two and remanding seven others on bail, must be very satisfying to those who have brought the PCEU into existence.

It success recalls the achievement of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, whose short life span is often bathed in nostalgia for those who follow these matters. Formed in 2001 and subsumed by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency in 2006, the NHTCU achieved much. It was a single point of contact for companies and law enforcement. It introduced, early in its life, a ‘confidentiality charter’, which enabled companies to report security breaches without fear of public disclosure. The Unit also built up an impressive network of international contacts. It had good links into Russia and the other former Eastern Bloc territories, which it leveraged to good effect.

Since the Unit’s premature demise, individual citizens and organisations have been at a loss as to how to report electronic crime. ‘Who do you call?’ has been a hard question to answer. And a dearth of data has rendered the nature and extent of e-crime unfathomable. Computer-related fraud figures can act as a proxy, but e-crime is much more than just fraud.

Moreover, while police forces are locally organised because everyday criminals are local, too, cyber-crime requires a different response — more national, indeed more international. And corporate cyber crime, again, requires a specific focus.

So it was tremendous that, as a result of hard lobbying by business, supported by Computer Weekly, and in the face of a mounting e-crime wave, in September 2008, Vernon Coker announced that just over £7m would go to support the Police Central e-Crime Unit. While welcome, this is less than one-third of the £25m budget of the old NHTCU.

But, demonstration is always more persuasive than explication. The PCEU’s first blood showed how quick and effective police can be in countering computer crime. If left to their own devices the gang could, says the unit, have got away with seven-figure sums within six months. The unit will not need many successes on this scale to strengthen a case for further investment.

The government should build on this success. But does it have the will to step up the battle against corporate e-crime in Britain at a time when bankers are vilified and the travails of big business generate little sympathy?