Combating e-crime: Battle lines drawn to target cyber criminals

The Home Office has finally given its backing for a new central e-crime unit to fight cybercrime. Businesses, however, have doubts about how far the new Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) will be able to stretch its £7m funding over three years.

Oct 9, 2008
By Paul Jacques

The Home Office has finally given its backing for a new central e-crime unit to fight cybercrime. Businesses, however, have doubts about how far the new Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) will be able to stretch its £7m funding over three years.

A report on e-crime published last year by the Metropolitan Police warned: “It is widely recognised that e-crime is the most rapidly expanding form of criminality, encompassing both new criminal offences in relation to computers (viruses and hacking, etc.) and ‘old’ crimes (fraud, harassment, etc.), committed using digital or computer technology. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) assessment is that specialist e-crime units can no longer cope with all e-crime.”

The report was written by Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, currently working in the Covert Policing Command at the Met and project lead for the new £7 million police unit dedicated to tackling cybercrime and clamping down on Internet fraud that was finally announced by e-crime Minister Vernon Coaker last week.

The new Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) will provide specialist officer training and coordinate cross-force initiatives to crack down on online offences.

However, speaking at a conference organised by online payments company SecureTrading last week, Det Supt McMurdie admitted that industry backing and expertise will be critical to gather the huge amount of data required if the unit, to be staffed mainly by MPS computer crime specialists, is to succeed.

It was a point reiterated by the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP. Warning about the escalation of Internet fraud both in the UK and globally, he told the conference: “Countering this type of fraud requires collaboration between the various participants in online retailing, including the IMRG (industry body for global e-retailing) and payment services providers such as SecureTrading, working in close cooperation with law enforcement organisations around the world, such as the MPS and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) here in the UK.”

With an estimated 80-90 per cent of crime on the Internet (excluding crime relating to children or images of child sexual abuse) believed to be fraud-related, the new unit will focus on supporting the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) when it comes into operation in 2009. It will also work closely with other crime-fighting agencies to tackle international and serious organised crime groups operating on the Internet.

According to Anonymizer, the specialist provider of Internet privacy and security solutions, it is estimated that 90 per cent of all computers are infected with some form of spyware that may track keystrokes, allowing criminals to learn passwords and bank account numbers – essentially giving them access to anything and everything on a victim’s computer.

Organised cybercrime

A new report by the Malicious Code Research Centre (MCRC) at Finjan, a supplier of secure web gateway products, reveals that the organisational structure of cybercrime organisations is making cybercrime more successful and profitable than ever.

“Over the course of the last 18 months we have been watching the profit-driven cybercrime market maturing rapidly. It has evolved into a booming business, operating in a major shadow economy with an organisational structure that closely mimics the real business world,” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Finjan’s CTO. “This makes businesses today even more vulnerable for cybercrime attacks, especially considering the maturity of the cybercrime market and its well-structured cybercrime organisations. Recent industry reports containing record numbers of malware infections during the first half of 2008 alone underline again the huge impact of cybercrime on today’s businesses.”

The report explores the trend of loosely-organised clusters of hackers trading stolen data online being replaced by hierarchical cybercrime organisations. These organisations deploy sophisticated pricing models,

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