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Rumoured cuts at the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) will hurt the fight against cybercrime, security experts warn.

Speculation that 400 jobs may go at SOCA (the UK's answer to the FBI) has raised concerns that UK businesses will be placed at greater risk of attack from international cyber-criminals. Encryption experts Safeboot note that coming so soon after the HMRC data loss debacle and days after MI5 warned of heightened industrial espionage against UK businesses from China, any cuts would send all the wrong signals.

SOCA was established in 1 April 2006 following a merger of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), the investigative arm of HM Revenue & Customs on serious drug trafficking, and the Immigration Service's unit dealing with people trafficking.

Home Office decisions on policing budgets out this week are expected to force the agency to lose between 200 and 400 of its 4,400 staff, The Times reports. Politicians reportedly want the agency to concentrate more on human-trafficking alongside its existing top priorities of fraud and drugs. That leaves the growing problem of cybercrime way down the political agenda.

A spokesman for SOCA said that while a reduction in headcount had been part of the current year's plan, there had been no announcement of any further cuts. He added that the organisation had been increasing headcount in cybercrime.

Nevertheless, the prospect of streamlining has provoked a backlash from sections of the information security community already critical of the decision to merge the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), which specialised in combating cybercrime, within an agency with a much larger remit.

Tom de Jongh, product manager at encryption specialist SafeBoot, fears for the future of the UK’s online defences and reckons that unless businesses start to take proactive measures to protect themselves from attack, SOCA’s reduced resources will lead to greater problems.

"In the last few days we have seen reports that personal data can be downloaded for a small fee and that the Information Commissioner has had his personal information accessed. In today’s environment, cyber-crime is rife. Without proper policing, UK businesses would be oblivious to many of the threats facing them," de Jongh said.

"SOCA’s role is critical in securing UK business. Over half of IT managers admit that workers ignore IT security policies and this should terrify business leaders across the nation. If their internal policies are being ignored, and workers are potentially leaving ‘doors’ wide open for cyber-criminals to exploit, what chance have businesses of staying secure?"

"If businesses cannot get the basics right, then SOCA is their last-line of defence," he added. ®

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