Home Office needs to get serious about e-crime

Microsoft hosted 190 police and law enforcement officers for three days' training in IT forensics this week, saving the government some £325,000.

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Microsoft hosted 190 police and law enforcement officers for three days' training in IT forensics this week, saving the government some £325,000.

It's Microsoft's way of giving something back to the industry, says Ed Gibson, the former FBI agent who became Microsoft UK's computer security advisor four years ago.

But the event highlights the lack of public sector funding for fighting e-crime, at a time when the cost of hacking and virus attacks on businesses is growing.

Cybercrime is global, increasingly organised, well-funded, targeted, sophisticated and effective.

Last year, the average cost of security incidents rose by 30%, according to management consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers. And Apacs, the payment industry association, says e-frauds were up 130% last year.

Gibson has no illusions about the size of the task. Years of advising the US Embassy on computer security issues made him sympathetic to the law enforcement industry's struggle to come to grips with cybercrime. It's why he fought so hard to persuade Microsoft to sponsor the annual training session, he says.

Most of the computers that police are likely to come across in an investigation will run Microsoft code, so who better than Microsoft to teach their secrets, he says.

Microsoft developed a tool for forensic investigators, the Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor or Cofee, two years ago.

Cofee is a set of triage tools, which allow investigators to prioritise and collect computer-based evidence for forensic examination from a running computer system.

The plan was for Microsoft to give it away to police forces, he says. But lawyers stepped in, muttering about liability. Microsoft has now negotiated a deal with Interpol, the international police agency, for it to distribute the software and train police officers in the use of Cofee.

Such altruism comes at a price. Delegates inevitably hear about new products such as Windows 7 and the new Bing search engine and how they create records of forensic interest. They might even overhear how microsoft products fit into their forces' administration.

But Peter Sommer, a professor at the London School of Economics, says that might be a small price to pay. Funds for training in computer forensics are hard to come by. Even the £3.5m in new money (supplemented by £3.5m from the Met) to fund the new Police Central e-Crime Unit has to stretch over three years, he says.

The government's determination to push for a universal broadband service means that the 70% of UK homes with a computer will soon be online. The police have to gear up for that, he says. "Even knife crime may have a computer element because the suspect may have bought the knife over the internet," he says.

Assistant commissioner Janet Williams, the Association of Chief Police Officer's lead on computer crime, aims to give every detective basic training in investigating e-enabled crime.

Those who attended Microsoft's course represented about 20% of e-crime trained police. There is a long way to go, and the current leadership vacuum at the Home Office is no help.

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