New Police Central e-crime Unit created to fight e-crime

The government is pumping more than £7m into a new police unit dedicated to battling Internet-based crime, but the person in charge says industry will have to help if it is to be a success.

The government is pumping more than £7m into a new police unit dedicated to battling cybercrime, but the person in charge says industry will have to help if it is to be a success.

The creation of the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) is intended to plug the gap left by the loss of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) two years ago, and to provide businesses and the public with a more effective means of reporting e-crime.

But detective superintendent Charlie McMurdie, who heads up the new unit, said: "It is essential we get skills in from the industry. They know more than anyone else, and I want them to come and work with us. It is the only way to make it happen."

She said this could include the possibility of security professionals being seconded for periods to work alongside the police in the PCeU.

Under the plan announced by e-crime minister Vernon Coaker, the role of the PCeU will be to provide specialist officer training and co-ordinate cross-force initiatives to crack on on-line cybercrime offences.

It will come into operation in spring 2009 alongside a new National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC), and National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which will come under the control of the City of London police.

The PCeU will receive £3.5m of government funding and £3.9m from the Metropolitan Police over three years, and will be based on the existing Computer Crime Unit, which currently consists of around 14 people.

McMurdie said her role will be to co-ordinate a lot of the existing efforts being made to combat e-crime. The PCeU will collaborate with SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency), and will have staff embedded at the NFRC. She also plans to make it far easier for companies and the public to report cases of e-crime. There will be a PCeU website, and a concerted effort to raise awareness of e-crime at the local police station level.

In a written statement, Vernon Coaker said: "It is important that we stay one step ahead of criminals who increasingly use sophisticated computer networks and the Internet to commit and facilitate crime. The new PCeU will work closely with the NFRC to tackle cyber crime reported to it. This will ensure that the NFRC has support in this highly specialised area.

"The PCeU will also play a vital role in helping police forces across the country improve skills and techniques needed to clamp down on e-crime."

The government has faced strong criticism since the creation of SOCA in 2006 and the dissolution of the NHTCU, which had won an international reputation during its five-year life, and had a high conviction rate. While SOCA concentrated on big international crimes, and child-related Internet crime fell under the scope of the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, ordinary everyday e-crime, such as phishing scams, got little attention.

Consumers were advised to report crimes to their credit card companies rather than to the police, which led to a general under-reporting of e-crime.

Funding the PCeU has also proved a difficult task. The Home Office originally promised to make an announcement in early summer, but funding problems delayed the launch, sources say.

While the new unit will generally be welcomed, some people sounded a cautious note. "It is a step in the right direction, but my fear is that it's not going to be a direct replacement for the NHTCU. It will have smaller terms of reference and few investigatory powers," said Marc Kirby, former head of forensics at NHTCU and now a department head at Cranfield University, where he teaches computer forensics.

"It [the loss of NHTCU] left a massive gap. There was no co-ordination of forces, no training, and no co-ordination of best practice. The NHTCU had a confidence charter with business. They could be trusted, but this disappeared with SOCA."

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