The head of the computer crime unit at Scotland Yard has spoken out on the urgent need for a national online crime centre to be established to better tackle the fast-growing problem of internet crime.
Charlie McMurdie said the creation of such a centre was vital for the police to tackle the problem, given how cheaply identities could now be bought online by criminals, and the proliferation of serious crime being perpetrated online.
“The internet does not have traditional borders,” she said. “We need a national unit with joined-up intelligence.” Knowledge would be shared across the 43 forces, and the centre would collaborate with bodies in other countries.
Since the absorption of the dedicated National High-Tech Crime Unit into the Serious Organised Crime Agency in 2006, there has been no dedicated national centre to online crime. Scotland Yard's computer crime unit, which focuses on IT theft, hacking and counterfeit software, has been given the task of tackling all online crime as just one of its remits, but McMurdie said more resource was needed.
Setting up a unit that “understands” the plight of online crime was vital if victims were to be helped effectively, McMurdie said. “Normally if you try to report a small loss online, say £10, at a police station, they don’t know what to do. Or it’s too small for them to deal with at the time compared to other crimes.”
The centre would have an initial funding of £1.3m, according to the proposal made in October last year to parliament that is awaiting consideration. It would also have a dedicated response team to crack down on online criminal activities as they are tracked, and would collaborate with banks and internet service providers to follow money movements and web content.
The government has not yet made any promise of funding. Last August, the influential Lords Science and Technology Committee accused parliament of turning its back on internet crime, leaving ordinary users to fend for themselves.
McMurdie said that around the world there are a number of specialist internet crime centres, but Britain was lagging. “The US has the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance [for banks and ISPs to share information about online incidents] and the Internet Crime Complaint Centre. Brazil has massive funding to take on internet crime issues. In Russia, every single cop has cyber-crime training.”
Typical online crimes range from the exchange of identities to aid people trafficking to advance fee fraud, where users are tricked into giving money upfront for a service or product that is never delivered.
In a data theft instance cited by McMurdie, a UK web user was targeted with a BotNet email, and within four hours money from that person was moved through Brazil, the US and Germany. The discovery was made much later, but given international police collaboration would have been possible to track the movements earlier and even prevent the crime, she said.
And the problem looks set to get worse, McMurdie said. Identities are going cheap on the web, at about 25 pence a time, and criminals can make on average about £400 from a successful fraud against one individual.
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