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Police Scotland to set up new cyber crime centre

National Centre of Excellence will employ specially trained officers to tackle a vertiginous rise in cyber crime

Police Scotland has announced plans to improve its cyber crime-fighting stance with the publication of a new strategy setting out how it will “adapt to the changing nature” of crime, recruiting cyber-trained officers and establishing a National Centre of Excellence.

Scotland’s national police service said the strategy, Keeping people safe in the digital world, which it will formally present on Wednesday 30 September, “recognises the need to provide reassurance, education and enforcement in public, private and digital spaces as the environment we live and work in evolves rapidly”.

Malcolm Graham, deputy chief constable and Police Scotland lead for crime and operational support, said: “The nature of crime is changing and Police Scotland needs to change with it. The online space is becoming a bigger part of the front line of policing every day.”

The strategy will tackle the threat, risk and harm from a wide-range of digitally enabled crimes, going beyond cyber attacks and online fraud against organisations and individuals to matters such as online child sexual abuse and the sharing of indecent images.

According to national statistics, “traditional” crime has fallen by 27% over the past 10 years, but the increase in cyber-dependent and -enabled offences has spiked. For example, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has seen referrals about child sexual abuse imagery rise from just 1,591 in 2009 to 11,948 in 2018. Police Scotland said such reports had risen by 21% during the Covid-19 pandemic.

More mundane cyber crimes such as online fraud or bank theft have also increased, but only 8% of such incidents are ever reported to the police and, as was previously reported by Computer Weekly, the victims of such crimes often struggle to achieve anything resembling justice.

“As well as keeping people safe on the streets, our officers and staff are keeping children safe on their computers and smartphones in every community in Scotland,” said Graham. “While cyber crimes are under-reported, we know we are stopping vulnerable people from being defrauded and adapting our techniques in response to criminals who are doing the same.

“The rapid increase in online abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people and children, either for financial gain or for sexual purposes, underlines the need for change.”

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Police Scotland will initially recruit 50 new officers and staff to establish the Centre of Excellence, alongside 100 officers and staff who are already working in the field, a number that is expected to rise over time.

“These officers may not be visible,” said Graham. “They may not be patrolling in cars, but the work they do is just as important, and the threats they are dealing with are on the rise.

“The centre will provide the necessary increased support for increasing cyber inquiries, investigation and prevention work. This will allow us to deliver support, training and guidance to local policing officers, giving them the tools to address the number of concerns raised daily. The additional officers will expand our existing capacity in cyber crime intelligence, investigations, research and development, and digital forensics.”

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