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IT chiefs demand centralised e-crime unit

Cybercrime reporting confusion

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The HMRC child benefit data loss debacle has reinvigorated calls to establish a central police unit to tackle cybercrime. Business leaders are expressing concern that not enough is being done to help victims of computer crime, who are unsure of who to turn to in the event of being subjected to computer-related fraud or attack.

David Roberts, chief executive of the Corporate IT Forum, said IT directors are starting to believe that the government is failing to prioritise the fight against cybercrime.

"There is no source to go to to report e-crime, other than the local police station – and they have very little understanding of it. It is a significant problem," Roberts told the Financial Times.

The National High Tech Crime Unit maintained a close relationship with industry, however, since the specialist unit merged other agencies to form the larger Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in April 2006 there has been less contact.

Instead of reporting cybercrime to the police, the public is encouraged to report fraud to their banks, a policy criticised by a House of Lords select committee and security researchers. Soca itself only takes reports of cybercrime indirectly, and tackles only the largest cases.

These changes have "reduced the focus on 'everyday' computer crime that is relevant to UK business and the general public", ICI global information security director Paul Simmonds said.

The recent HMRC loss of a CD containing 25 million records has brought heightened attention to a debate that has been raging quietly for some time. Even though the unencrypted discs have probably simply been mislaid rather than fallen into the hands of cybercrooks, the incident has highlighted concerns about a lack of information on the extent of cybercrime.

A petition calling on rapid action on funding for a central police co-ordination unit proposed by the Metropolitan Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has attracted the support of security experts among its 215 signatories thus far. ACPO has submitted its proposals, but the Home Office says it needs further "clarification on detail and costs".

An e-crime study by the science and technology committee of the House of Lords also made proposals designed to address the lack of authoritative data on incidents of cybercrime, via the establishment of a national e-crime unit.

The government rejected these proposals, to the consternation of security experts, in a move that suggests that ACPO will have an uphill battle getting its cybercrime concerns addressed in the corridors of power. ®

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