496% surge in cybercrime in Lancashire

Cybercrime
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Cybercrime is rapidly rising as criminals use the Internet to commit a multitude of criminal activities using the Internet and law enforcement agencies are struggling to cope with the huge growth of the problem, an investigation has revealed.

Today, AASMA DAY looks at how Lancashire Police experienced a massive 496 per cent rise in cybercrimes in 12 months and finds out about their plans to tackle the issue.

Det Ch Insp Andrew Fyfe, head of crime at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau

Det Ch Insp Andrew Fyfe, head of crime at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau

Cybercrime is growing at such an alarming rate police chiefs need to get ahead of the game to tackle it.

Det Insp Eric Halford, digital media and cyber investigation unit manager at Lancashire Police, says: “The Internet is part of everyday life and you can’t avoid it and criminals are using it in almost every type of crime there is.

“There are cyber dependent crimes which are crimes that can’t be done without the Internet and technology. These involve attacks using computer malware.

“Then there are cyber enabled crimes which are crimes that can be done without the Internet but with the Internet, they can have a bigger impact and hit many more people.

Over the past two to three years, cybercrime has ballooned

“Over the past two to three years, cybercrime has ballooned.

“The police are usually reactive but with cybercrime, we need to get ahead of the game as the problem is only growing.”

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information by the Johnston Press Investigations Unit show the number of crimes dealt with by Lancashire Police which had a cyber link to them saw a massive 496 per cent rise between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

In 2014/15, there were 215 crimes recorded with a cyber flag and in 2015/16, this rose to 270 - but in 2016/17, the figure was 1,609.

Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashires Cybercrime Research Unit

Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashires Cybercrime Research Unit

Crimes flagged up by Lancashire Police as having a cyber element to them include harassment, child abduction, theft, sexual activity involving children, obscene publication offences, stalking and murder threats.

Harassment crimes alone saw a 154-fold increase with 43 logged in 2015/16 leaping to 666 in 2016/17.

Det Insp Halford admits that although some of the rise is down to the fact crimes are being logged and flagged as cybercrimes more, the problem is also growing.

He says: “It is a bit of both. We have been logging it more but it is also an incredibly fast growing area of crime.”

Det Insp Eric Halford, digital media and cyber investigation unit manager at Lancashire Police

Det Insp Eric Halford, digital media and cyber investigation unit manager at Lancashire Police

He claims the figures are only the tip of the iceberg as so many cybercrimes go unreported and Lancashire Police predict a huge 200 per cent increase in cybercrime by 2020.

He says: “We have done a forecasting plan based on the demand and we predict that by 2020, just in Lancashire alone, cybercrime will rise by 200 per cent. But as this is just based on the cybercrimes we know about and it is so massively under-reported, this does not reflect the true scale of the problem.”

Det Insp Halford says that many police officers work with traditional policing methods but that if they were specially trained in dealing with cybercrime, the prosecution rate would be higher.

He says: “Cybercrime is moving so fast, but we have a workforce trained in the traditional art of policing such as CCTV, fingerprints, DNA and eyewitness statements.

“Our staff do not always recognise when a crime is cyber related. If they did, they would be able to exploit the evidence held on the Internet and this would mean a much higher prosecution rate as the evidence is so damning.

“As an example, if you have a crime such as stalking, normally it would be one person’s word against another. But if you have messages from the Internet, that is evidence.

“When staff can identify a cybercrime and exploit the evidence, the prosecution rate is around 79 per cent if cyber and digital is involved.”

Lancashire Police currently has a team of five dedicated to cybercrime who are digital media investigators.

In addition, there are 35 other police officers who do their normal police role but have also been specially trained in cybercrime.

Det Insp Halford says: “Our aspiration is to have 300 of these specially trained officers by 2020.

“We will be investing in our own training programme and planning to get our own trained member of staff to train officers.

“Then after that, we want to upskill the remaining 2,900 staff to increase their awareness of digital and cyber issues. We are being very ambitious as we see cybercrime as one of our key priorities as there has been a real change in culture.”

Det Insp Halford says Lancashire Police has agreed to invest extra funding of about £1.1m for cybercrime each year between now and 2020.

He says: “This won’t be growth - it will be £1.1m from the existing budget shifting into cyber.

“Crime is all about cyber and digital and if we don’t invest in this area, I believe we won’t be able to provide a relevant service to the community.

“Cybercrime is a big problem and is growing - but Lancashire Police recognises this and we know where we are in terms of capability and where we need to get to and have a structured plan.

“We are still behind the curve but many other police forces have not got the same capabilities or ability to grow in these areas. We have an aspiration for Lancashire Police to be the best force in the country around cyber crime and digital.”

Ian Billsborough, head of digital investigations at Lancashire Police, says: “Technology, particularly the Internet, has changed the way crime can happen. While crime figures show both cyber dependent and cyber enabled crimes are growing, many crimes are not reported so it is hard to understand the true picture.

“In Lancashire, we take fraud and cybercrime very seriously. We don’t ‘write any off’ but they can be very difficult and complex to investigate.

“The reality of cybercrime investigations can be quite frustrating for both investigators and victims due to their complexity, international nature and volume.

“This is why we are investing in roles such as digital media investigators and digital forensics investigators so we can keep up with evolving crime types. As with all crime, prevention is the best outcome and individuals, businesses and society as a whole need to become aware about how to prevent themselves falling victim to cybercrime.

“It is important that everyone raises their knowledge and understanding about how to protect themselves.”

Offences investigated by police up 90%

Figures obtained by the Johnston Press Investigations Team reveal the number of cybercrime offences investigated by the police around the country have risen by almost 90 per cent in the last year.

The average spend on cyber crime across nine forces which provided figures on their budget was just one per cent. One force, Cambridgeshire spent £722,000 or 0.55 per cent of its annual budget on cyber crime.

Data released under Freedom of Information rules shows that up to 85 per cent of reported online crimes are going unsolved and that the 39,339 offences reported to 30 out of the 45 police forces in the UK in the last 12 months represent only a fraction of the true number of offences being committed.

The Office of National Statistics estimates there were 1.9m victims of computer misuse offences in England and Wales in the past year - which suggests as little as two per cent of cybercrimes are reported with victims being too embarrassed or worried about reputation to even unaware they have been targeted.

Epidemic levels

Cyber crime is rapidly rising and experts warn it is reaching epidemic levels as criminals use the Internet as a tool for a multitude of fraudulent activities.

ActionFraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, says around 70 per cent of fraud is cyber enabled - but says the number of reported cyber crimes are only the tip of the iceberg.

Cyber crime is any criminal act dealing with computers and networks through hacking. Cyber crime also includes traditional crimes conducted through the Internet.

Det Ch Insp Andrew Fyfe, head of crime at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “We are the central reporting point for all fraud and cyber crime for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“But what we see are reports to law enforcement and are very conscious that what people choose to report and what actually occurs can be vastly different - and that is very true of cyber crime.

“Fraud and cyber crime is the most prevalent type of crime in the country. In that sense, it is the most harmful and problematic crime there is.

“But there is no law that people have to report a crime when they suffer it. If a bank suffered a £1m robbery after having their safe blown open, technically, they would not be obliged to report that to the police.

“This is one of the reasons why we don’t see anything like a fraction of the cyber crimes that are actually committed.

“With businesses, it is all about reputation with online banking, one bank is not going to want to admit they are more likely to be subjected to cyber attacks.

“Many larger organisations have their own capabilities to deal with these types of attacks and often have their own internal investigations team and corporate lawyers engaging with insurers.

“They don’t always think they need the assistance of law enforcement. I think there is a real lack of understanding about how much we can do.

“In the last three years, policing has really upped its game in its capability and responsiveness to cyber attacks.

“We appeal to organisations to report cyber crimes to us as there is a real value to having that intelligence and understanding the threats being experienced. Often, many of these attacks will be replicated elsewhere.

“With big businesses, when they suffer a cyber attack, it is not just them who are affected but there are likely to be data breaches of their system and potentially there can be several million people affected.”

Prof Awais Rashid, Lancaster University’s top academic on cyber security and co-director of the Security Lancaster Institute, said: “The Internet allows us to organise our lives and keep in touch with people.

“But at the same time, it also allows criminals new ways to access victims and new ways to organise themselves.

“Some criminals are very tech savvy and will use a lot of technologies to hide their activities.

“It is a cat and mouse game - criminals keep coming up with new ways to hide their activities and law enforcement have to come up with legal ways of uncovering them and protecting the public.”

Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashire’s Cybercrime Research Unit, said: “We see the Internet as the fastest growing place for crime and deviance today.

“Even though there is a lot of work going on to tackle cyber crime, some cyber criminals are so skilful, you need running shoes to keep up with them.”