Police to sign up IT special constables in war on hackers

Home Office plans on cybercrime strategy will pool expertise from police, government and business.

Home Office plans on cybercrime strategy will pool expertise from police, government and business

The government will ask IT professionals to join the police force as special constables to help police track down hackers and virus writers, if plans for a new national computer crime strategy being considered in Whitehall get the go-ahead.

The Home Office is leading the development of the strategy, which will look at ways businesses, government bodies and law enforcement agencies can pool resources to fight the rising tide of computer crime.

News of the plan comes amid renewed calls from police, industry and the Crown Prosecution Service to give police stronger powers to seize evidence from computer criminals, and to increase maximum sentences for basic hacking offences from six months to five years.

Officials believe that special constables - civilian computer experts trained in gathering evidence using the same forensic standards as the police - could be one answer to the problem of limited police resources. Prosecutions are often hindered by poor evidence of computer crime.

Research from the FBI and the Computer Security Institute published last week, shows that nearly 60% of businesses are still reporting unauthorised access of their systems.

The Home Office is anxious to tackle the problem by drawing together expertise from a wide range of IT security bodies, business, government and the police in a coherent way, rather than the current fragmented approach.

Security consultant Chris Sundt, who is assisting the Home Office develop the strategy with the parliamentary IT group Eurim, said civilian special constables could make it much easier for businesses to initiate criminal prosecutions against hackers.

"One of the problems we have in industry, is handing investigations over to the police. If you call them too early that creates problems because there are not enough police resources. If you call them in too late, evidence may not be admissible in court. Special constables could act as the police presence until the investigation is handed over to the police proper," he said.

Other ideas under consideration include the creation of cyberhood watch schemes, which will allow business and the public to exchange information on threats and countermeasures.

The strategy is also expected to assess the adequacy of the levels of police funding for cybercrime and to consider whether computer crime should be one of the indicators used to assess the performance of police forces.

Whitehall officials are keen to introduce easy to implement measures before the end of the year to kick-start the policy.

The Home Office is working with Eurim to identify the key issues which could form the basis of the strategy before Parliament recesses, and to identify possible solutions by September.

"There are a whole lot of issues that need to be addressed. Do we have the right structures in place to reduce the opportunities for computer crime? We cannot just rely on law enforcement. We have to involve other parts of the community," said Sundt.

Have your say on the Home Office's cybercrime strategy >>

Read more on IT legislation and regulation