UK has understaffed e-Crime unit

The UK could be at risk of a major cybercrime attack due to police understaffing – so much so that the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police has called for more cyber cops, not robocops, despite police budgets being cut.

There are currently 385 officers dealing with cybercrime, but only 60 of those deal with financial crime, such as fraud, bank account hacking, credit card stealing and so forth.

The rest focus on child abuse and people trafficking. There are 60 police dealing with bank scams in a country with over 60 million people, making it less than one officer per million – something unsustainable considering the Met workforce of over 30,000 officers not to mention other staff in their thousands.

“Some commentators argue that we should concentrate on uniformed policing and draw back from specialised work that could be done by others,” said Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police.

“Leave cybercrime to the banks and retailers to sort out, the argument runs. It’s a fundamentally misguided argument. If the debate about police cutbacks gets bogged down in arguments about ‘uniforms before specialists’ we will not serve the public well.”

The problem is that cutbacks are a very real factor in how the police move forward, and many believe that there simply isn’t enough funding for these specialised units.

The Met is facing a massive £463 million deficit and needs to cut its spending by 25 percent over the next four years, which includes staff lay-offs. It begs the question if it can really afford to take on new officers specialising in cybercrime.

If it does not, however, UK citizens may be in a lot of danger, according to one source who has worked with cybercrime units, who asked to remain anonymous. She told us that while working for virtual social world Habbo she encountered plenty of incidences of fraud, child grooming, and online stalking – most of which did warrant police involvement. 

Her experience was that the police did not know what the issues were, nor how to deal with them. It’s a worrying thought when it comes to the safety of children online. Habbo also has a virtual economy, a perfect opportunity for fraud, which is becoming increasingly common online.

A report released in 2009 by the Internet Crime Complaint Centre showed that cybercrime rose by a third between 2007 and 2008, costing £187 million in dealing with complaints during that period alone.

The total cost of cybercrime could be closer to $1 trillion, according to Dave Waller at SC Magazine, making it a very lucrative business and one that the UK cannot afford to be lax in dealing with.

Stephenson said there is some financial benefit to investing in this area, because for every £1 spent on fighting financial crime online £21 is saved on prevented theft. Even when this is coupled with the £2.75 million annual cost of the Metropolitan Police’s e-Crime unit, it still amounts to a saving. But this is Osborne’s austerity and the UK is cut-happy.

The Met has seen some success recently when it arrested 19 suspects from a cybercrime ring which utilised the ZeuS trojan to steal £6 million from UK banks.

If these criminals were to know just how understaffed the Met’s e-Crime unit really is we may see many more instances of UK citizens as victims of cybercrime.