Ruth Davis is the former Head of Cyber Security at techUK. She now works in cyber security strategy in the telecoms sector and writes in a personal capacity.
Crime isn’t falling, it’s changing – a truth we’re in danger of ignoring.
The latest crime figures have confirmed what many had suspected for some time. Whilst the underlying crime rate continues to fall, including the first figures on cyber-crime sees it rise – a whopping 107 per cent on the same period last year.
Cyber-crime costs us billions of pounds and undermines confidence in the digital economy. We need to act urgently and decisively.
The problem isn’t going away: the number of cyber-crimes reported to police has risen seven per cent on last year to nearly quarter of a million. As the crime survey shows, this is just the tip of the iceberg and only a fraction of these crimes have been solved.
We can’t afford to sweep these figures under the carpet by quibbling about sample sizes and pilot data when elderly people, families and businesses are being hurt.
People often struggle to understand the human cost of cyber-crime. Victims are seen as large corporations like Sony or Targetm who can weather the storm, or individuals who are quickly and painlessly compensated by their banks. Often neither is true.
Take the story of Brenda Parke, a pensioner who was conned out of £60,000 by a man she met on a dating site and believed she was in a relationship with. It is unlikely she will ever get her money back.
Or the small Leicester based courier, Transport for Business, which recently had its identity stolen by online scammers selling non-existent cars. Five victims have collectively lost £30,000, and the firm’s reputation and future is at stake.
So what to do? Research I led for techUK, the trade association for the digital technology industry, has recently been published. It recommends ways in which industry, government and the police can work together to fight cyber-crime.
There are four fixes which would have the biggest impact.
Firstly, police chiefs need to work with consumer groups, retailers, dating websites and social media companies to put easy to understand advice about keeping safe online front and centre on the websites that people use every day.
Secondly, we need to do everything we can to make it easy for people to report cyber-crime. The Police estimate that last year 85 per cent of cyber-crime went unreported. Until we get a better understanding of the problem we face we can’t provide the resources to match.
There is an app for everything now so why not for crime reporting too? Reports and digital evidence could be sent straight to the police from a PC or a mobile phone.
Thirdly, we need to train far more police officers. Last year, only two per cent of officers had undertaken cyber-crime training. It should become mandatory for all and the College of Policing, which is responsible for professional skills and standards, should be empowered to make this change.
Fourthly, technology and technical skills are developing so fast that police forces can’t be expected to have the latest, cutting edge capabilities in-house. The Home Office should create an industry-run Managed Cyber Security Service Provider to assess what technologies police forces need and accredit a range of potential suppliers.
Through it, the police could easily seek a range of competitive quotes, contracting specialist skills as needed. This would encourage better value for money, and outsource the bulk of evidence gathering and analysis related to cyber-crime, freeing up police officers to pursue the criminals behind it.
Some will say that we can’t afford to put more resources into fighting cyber-crime – the reality is we can’t afford not to. As our reliance on cyber space grows, it will become an even more lucrative target for criminals.
Next year the Home Office will publish its Crime Prevention Strategy. This is an opportunity for the Government to set out a new pact with industry, the police and society – one which commits us all to working together in new ways to combat cyber-crime.
We need the brightest and boldest ideas, and the waves created by last week’s crime figures gives the Home Office the opportunity to seek them from crime fighters, academics, industry and victims. Let’s hope it’s an opportunity that is seized.