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UK police chiefs mull regional cybercrime squads

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British police chiefs are drawing up plans to set up regional "cybercrime" squads along the lines of existing teams tasked to handle anti-terror operations.

The idea - still in its formative stages - is the brainchild of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and reflects concern that existing efforts are not enough to keep auction fraud, malware, hacking and other forms of cybercrime in check, the FT reports.

Government plans to develop a national cyber-security strategy, more details on which are expected to emerge later this week, are likely to include plans to create a new Cabinet Office unit.

Meanwhile, senior police chiefs are separately debating the prospects of establishing regional e-crime squads and to provide better training for regular police officers in how to handle reports on cybercrime.

An ACPO spokeswoman confirmed that the FT's take on the plan, discussed during a recent conference, is broadly accurate. "We are trying to develop a more consistent approach to handling cybercrime as part of the development of an e-crime strategy," she told El Reg.

"How many regional cybercrime squads there might be, or where they will be based, is yet to be determined. The plan needs to be ratified by ACPO before I can go into details."

A timetable for ratification is not available as such, but the spokeswoman hinted that this would happen in a matter of weeks rather than months.

Members of the public and businesses have long complained that cybercrime reporting structures in the UK are confusing at best. Consumers hit by fraud have been pointed towards their bank or online auction house, for example. Corporates have no obvious point of contact, especially after the NHTCU was folded into SOCA three years ago.

"It has been an ad hoc and piecemeal approach," one senior officer told the FT. "There is a lack of knowledge, particularly among detectives."

Janet Williams, head of intelligence and covert policing at the Metropolitan Police, is pushing ACPO's e-crime strategy. It's hoped that regional cybercrime units could take some pressure off the new Police Central e-Crime Unit, whose modest £7.4m three-year budget has been criticised by some observers as insufficient.

The proposed cybercrime squads would take their lead from the Scotland Yard-based PCeU, mimicking the type of structure already in place to combat terrorism.

The PCeU has established partnerships with the banking industry to run virtual task-forces, an idea partially hampered by reluctance on the part of banks to share information. Still, police chiefs are optimistic this model could be expanded to partnerships with retailers and property companies, who have also suffered from the rise in cybercrime.

The strategy of establishing regional e-crime squads and nationwide training of front-line officers is seen as a way of plugging gaps in a national strategy to combat cybercrime, which is still in the process of being implemented. Policing structures in Britain for tackling cybercrime are already complex (as we've noted before), even without factoring in the regional cybercrime squad idea.

It may well be that regional Computer Crime Units (which already exist in larger forces such as Greater Manchester and the West Midlands) become regional cybercrime squads without adding any extra complexity, but since the whole scheme is still in flux, that's speculation on our part. ®

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