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New £21m police unit to tackle UK e-crime

High-tech police force addresses case backlog

A new UK police force dedicated to tracking down cybercriminals is gearing up to make the most of what one senior police official acknowledges is limited funding.

The Police Central e-crime Unit, due to begin operations soon, came to be as part a comprehensive overview of how the UK handles fraud and e-crime after years of criticism that the government wasn't doing enough.

The unit will receive £7 million in funding over the next three years from the Home Office and Metropolitan Police.

"This is not a lot of money," said Janet Williams, deputy assistant commissioner in the Specialist Crime Directorate of the Metropolitan Police Service, during a presentation at the E-crime Congress in London on Wednesday.

Overall, the strategy for dealing with e-crime will be increased training for law enforcement, linking different law enforcement agencies and allying with private industry.

Of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, "only a handful of high-tech investigators" are in those jurisdictions, William said. Additionally, it's likely that specific computer forensics equipment would have to be shared between jurisdictions.

As far as training, Williams said they would like to see many law enforcement officials get basic training in dealing with electronic crime. Other investigators can get more specific training, such as the right way to collect electronic evidence for presentation in court cases, Williams said.

There's been a "huge backlog" in cases dealing with child pornography, as investigators are having trouble analysing data. Investigators should have the skills to be able to triage a digital crime case "so they're not bringing the whole computer and locking everything up for three months but we go for what we need in order to prove the case", Williams said.

She cautioned, however, that the unit will not be able to handle every cybercrime incident.

"What I'm not saying and have never said, and I've been very clear about, is that the national e-crime unit... can investigate all e-crime," Williams said. "That is never going to happen. We haven't got the capability or the capacity."

UK law enforcement is also preparing for an expected increase in fraud and e-crime related to hosting the Olympics in 2012. An Olympic e-crime assessment has been completed, and a business case has been put forward to the Home Office to fund the effort.

Of concern are possible denial-of-service attacks on Olympic websites, Williams said. Also, officials have already seen suspicious domain names registered for Olympic-related businesses.

"We are already seeing some sort of precursor-type activity," Williams said in a subsequent interview with IDG News Service. Some domain-name registrations are raising concerns: "We're thinking from the nature of the registration 'Are these legitimate companies or not?'"

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