The biggest genie of them all has finally been let out of the bottle. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published its report on e-crimeyesterday and it makes for sobering reading.
First of all it admits that although we don’t know how much cybercrime there is as most of it is undetected, unreported and unresolved, it’s certainly much more frequent than physical crime. This is supported by the 2010 British Crime Survey, which found that the risk of being a victim of fraud (much of which is online) is two and half times the risk of being a victim of traditional acquisitive crimes such as burglary and car theft. The only other data’ we seem to have is a survey carried out by Eurostat in 2011, which shows that the UK is second only to Latvia in Europe for credit card fraud and losses resulting from phishing attacks. And that’s just what victims know about; all too often, people have no idea that they have been the victim of online fraud.
Secondly it confirms our worst fears. Notonly dowe have little if any idea of the vast scale of this problem, we also havenothing like enough expertise or resources to tackle it. A few specific threats, such as online child exploitation and identity theft, have attracted specialist resources but others such as cyber-bullying and phishing attacks, are largely ignored. In times of austerity even the Child Exploitation and Protection Centre is taking a ten per cent hit in its budget this can only get worse.
The government’s Cyber Security Strategy laudably wants to improve our understanding of e-crime and the skills needed to investigate it across the police service, which it suggests it should mainstream cyber awareness, capability and capacity, improve training and encourage the use of cyber specials’ to bring in people with specialist skills. In reality, the police are largely untrained and ill-equipped to respond at all to e-crime (let alone effectively) and default to specialists’ who know about these things’. According to evidence submitted to the Committee, the public think the police either don’t care or don’t want to know about e-crime, which hardly inspires public confidence. But given the degree to which the police are constantly required to respond to everything from (as Sir Ian Blair put it in his BBC Dimbleby Lecture nearly ten years ago) antisocial behaviour to terrorism, can one blame them? On top of the cuts, the escape of this genie really is all they need.