You can steal more on the internet than you can by robbing a bank

The UK must do more to stop online fraud and deter state-sponsored cyber-espionage or risk losing the fight against e-crime, MPs have warned.

The Home Affairs Select Committee said much low-level internet-based financial crime was falling into a “black hole” and was not reported to the police.

More officers should be trained in digital crime detection and e-crime specialists protected from cuts.

The Home Office said the authorities must “keep pace” with criminals.

Publishing its first ever report on the subject, the cross-party committee said e-crime took various shapes and forms, did not recognise national borders and could be committed “at almost any time or in any place”.

Offences range from attacks on computer networks and the use of viruses to steal data to the use of cyberspace to facilitate traditional crimes such as forgery, sabotage, drug smuggling and people trafficking.

‘Off the hook’

The committee said it was worried by the evidence it had heard during its inquiry about the UK’s e-crime fighting capability.

It said it had been told by Adrian Leppard, deputy assistant commissioner at the City of London Police, that up to a quarter of the UK’s 800 specialist internet crime officers could be lost due to budget cuts.

This was despite evidence that the UK is a prime target for many of the 1,300 criminal gangs specialising in fraud.

A quarter of the gangs, many of which are based in eastern Europe and Russia, use the internet as their principal means of deception.

This, MPs said, came on top of proposed 10% cuts to the budget of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

“At a time when fraud and e-crime is going up, the capability of the country to address it is going down,” the report concluded.

“Ministers have acknowledged the increasing threat of e-crime but it is clear that sufficient funding and resources have not been allocated to the law enforcement responsible for tackling it.”

The committee has called for a dedicated cyber-espionage team to lead the response to reports of attacks, many of which due to their sophistication are believed to be backed by foreign governments.

Its other recommendations include:

  • Requiring banks to report all e-fraud, however small, to the police
  • Obliging web firms to explain data security tools to new users
  • Prosecutors to review sentencing guidance for e-crimes
  • Increased funding for European e-crime co-operation
  • Mandatory code of conduct for removal of indecent material
  • New body to report on and remove online terrorist content

Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said the UK’s response to e-crime was too “fractured”.

“We are not winning the war on online criminal activity,” he said.

“We are being too complacent about these e-wars because the victims are hidden in cyberspace.”

He added: “You can steal more on the internet than you can by robbing a bank… If we don’t have a 21st Century response to this 21st Century crime, we will be letting those involved in these gangs off the hook.”

‘Relentless cuts’

The UK’s eavesdropping centre GCHQ suggested earlier this year that 80% of cyber-attacks could be prevented by better management of information online.

We know we need to keep pace with criminals as they target the web and so we continue to consider ways to ensure the police and security services have access to communications data”

Home Office

Responding to Tuesday’s report, the Police Federation of England and Wales said it was further evidence that recent figures showing a 10% fall in recorded crime last year were “misleading”.

“Crime is clearly changing, not falling at the rate the figures suggest, and an unknown but extremely high number of offences are going unreported,” said Steve Williams, the organisation’s chairman.

“It is extremely concerning that relentless cuts to policing are continuing at a time when there is a burgeoning cybercrime industry.”

The government announced increased funding for cybersecurity in 2010, while a single National Cyber Crime Unit will be formed later this year as part of the new National Crime Agency.

“Crime is at record low levels and this government is taking action to tackle the cyber-threat, investing more than £850 million through the national cybersecurity programme to develop and maintain cutting-edge capabilities,” a Home Office spokesman said.

“The National Crime Agency will include a new elite National Cyber Crime unit to target the most serious offenders and provide enhanced intelligence for CEOP so they can protect even more children from harm.

“But we know we need to keep pace with criminals as they target the web and so we continue to consider ways to ensure the police and security services have access to communications data.”

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