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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
New cybercrime boss quizzed
The UK's first national law enforcement organisation to combat computer based crime is being launched on Tuesday by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

The unit will tackle organised crime on the internet, including porn, fraud and other scams.

Online fraud is on the rise worldwide, with criminals playing on the anonymity of the web and the difficulty in policing it.

Even if a fraudster is tracked down and caught, they can be very difficult to prosecute as the authorities have to find out where they have committed the crime.

How can the internet be policed to stop such crimes? What are the challenges for the new cyber-cops?

Len Hynds, the Government's new cybercrime unit boss joined us for a live forum on Wednesday and answered a selection of your questions..

To listen to coverage of the forum, select the link below:



Rod Mathisen, Guildford:

Where will the priorities of the new unit lie - porn, fraud or vandalism (e.g. hacking)?

Len Hynds:

The priorities will be set once we have a true picture of what the threat is. A lot of the work in the first year for the unit will be to put to put systems in place that will enable us to accurately measure the threat in the future.

It is also useful to look at what types of crime are embraced by the term "high-tec" crime. There are the traditional "old" crimes that are now being committed within this medium and there are some new crimes such as hacking. With the "old" crimes - some of them have been revitalised - like fraud, money-laundering and paedophilia - we will be looking at all of those offences. We will be particularly looking at those offences where there is a serious or an organised element and where the offences are national or trans-national in nature.

It is perhaps important to mention that the strategy itself has two strands: there is the national unit and then there is the standardisation of approach at a local level. So we will be ensuring that there is uniformity amongst the local computer crime units around the country.


It doesn't sound a safe place to be - the internet or cyberspace?

Len Hynds:

There are a number of useful documents out there that are indicators as to where crime has been committed within the electronic environment - they are just that - they are indicators. I would like to see some authoritative work done so that there is some good statistical data - some good empirical data that we can look at and then prioritise our activities as a result.

It is an environment that is increasing in use - it is increasing in use in our social lives and in our business lives. If this is the way that things are going then one can expect that criminals will also use that environment.

It is particularly important to recognise, when looking at serious and organised crime, that those people engaged in serious and organised crime at the moment may well not have come through schools where they were taught the basics of computers. Our children, of course, get that on the National Curriculum - they grow up with computers. The danger is that when the next generation grow up they will be computer literate and sadly, some of that generation will be our organised criminals of the future.

Luke Pollard, Exeter, UK:

Is the new cybercrime group only going to operate within the UK, or will it participate in international actions against paedophiles and elements of the international criminal underworld? Will you be liaising with other forces around the world as well?

Len Hynds:

Yes we will. Part of the unit will provide a focal point for similar units that are being set up around the world. At the G8 conference in Birmingham in 1998 a ten-point action plan was agreed. Part of that action plan was to set up centres of excellence and to provide points of contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to freeze the electronic scene when crimes are committed across geographic boundaries.

Tim Kefford, Wimbledon, UK:

Is it better to prevent hackers on web sites via stronger security but making it harder to find them? Or to catch them in the act on badly protected sites?

Len Hynds:

Cybercrime is real crime and it has real victims so it is useful to look at experience in policing in general in this respect. What the questioner is asking about is prevention versus detection. I believe we must have a holistic approach as to how we combat cybercrime.

There will be close work with industry to ensure that in the future products are looked at from a crime prevention point of view - at the concept stage rather than at the marketing stage and we are very keen to try to work with industry to do that. But we will be looking at all the opportunities that are there and will be using the environment ourselves to detect and prevent crime.

Len Hynds:

Shutting down sites is a concept that you need to look at very, very closely. You need to look at the reason behind that kind of activity - what is the collateral intrusion if we were to take on that kind of tactic and what damage would it do to innocent persons using the site. So as a tactic, whilst I have heard of it, it is not something that I can envisage that we would be able to use on a day-to-day basis. Let us not forget that we investigate using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and that does exactly what it says - it regulates our investigatory powers.


But if you came across a site that was involved in any form of criminal activity, what do you estimate would be the time between detecting it and being able to do something about it?

Len Hynds:

We would investigate the crimes that were disclosed as a result of the information provided us but that doesn't necessarily mean we are going to immediately close down the site. You can draw an analogy here with the world outside the electronic world. Policing has for many years policed illicit pornography but it doesn't go round burning down the shops that sell it - it deals with it in accordance with the law.

Mark Graves, San Antonio, Texas:

With scepticism growing in the US about the government using illegal methods to track website visitors to government websites, will the UK be using similar methods to track and monitor crime on the internet?

Len Hynds:

We will be using those powers that are available to us under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This means we will not have the ability randomly trawl for information - we have no desire to do that. We will be focused and targeted in our response. We have, after all, finite resources and we must ensure that we use those resources to combat serious and organised crime where there is a high-tec component.


This is the concern of many - the privacy aspect of it all. The beauty of the internet is that you can access all manner of material. What civil liberties balances do you have to take into this equation - you are not going to be trawling through our e-mails for example?

Len Hynds:

Absolutely not and I want to underline that. I have neither the inclination, need, ability nor the legal basis upon which to trawl through millions of e-mails. Why on earth would I want to do that? There is plenty of organised crime out there for me to focus on. I have no need whatsoever to randomly trawl through e-mails and I don't have the legal basis upon which to do it anyway.

John, London, UK:

The new law treats hacking in the same way as "conventional" terrorists. How can preventing users from accessing a website for a few hours be the same as bombing a building and killing many people?

Len Hynds:

The Terrorism Act 2000 incorporates a number of offences including hacking offences within it. I don't think it was ever intended that those people you have described as conventional terrorists should be viewed in the same light as some hackers. But let us be clear about this, some hackers - whether intentional or otherwise - can do immense damage to society. They may just be testing systems - they may believe that the systems are there to be tested but the consequences of their actions are incredible and we need to recognise that.

C English, Anaheim, United States:

Knowing the level of difficulty in reporting "regular" crime to the authorities, how do you plan to create an atmosphere where consumers/internet users will be more likely to report instances of suspected cyber-crimes?

Len Hynds:

Within the United Kingdom, the premiss will be that still the vast majority of offences will be investigated at a local level. But we will do is set up a process whereby people can report crime online. It seems ridiculous that people have to come offline and perhaps drive to a police station to report a crime - that clearly can't be right and we need to do something to put that right.

Tony Walker, Louth, Lincs, UK:

Based upon the fact that prevention is better than the cure - How do you propose to prevent the "unlawful use" of computers by criminals? Under whose jurisdiction will you come under - the Chief Constable in whose area the crime is committed or your own - i.e. you will be working independently of the "local force"?

Len Hynds:

This is a national unit. It is the first national unit to combat high-tech crime. For legal reasons it is hosted by the National Crime Squad and so I come under the Director General of the National Crime Squad. But in terms of strategy for the unit, it is a multi-agency group that will guide the strategy for the unit in future.


There is 25 million going into setting up this unit and at least one cyber-cop expected in each constabulary to tackle internet crime in its area. Will that be enough?

Len Hynds:

I think 25 million is a significant sum of money and it is a really good start. It is going to allow us to put systems in place that will enable us to measure the threat more accurately. That in turn will help us to prioritise activity and it will inform future funding bids.

It is a good start and will enable us to implement the core elements of the strategy. At a national level there will an investigative capability; we will be able to retrieve and analyse intelligence; we will support local forces and we will have our own forensic retrieval capability.

Robert Doran, Norfolk:

Is your new job a waste of money and in fact a spin on the real problem which is the failure of the Government to place enough resources in the first place to combat crime.

Len Hynds:

I think it is a significant sum of money and the work we are doing will significantly enhance law enforcement's ability to combat high-tech crime.


So it is not just a public relations exercise?

Len Hynds:

Absolutely not.

Andy Twiss, Birmingham, UK:

What are your credentials for the job and which of them, do you think, have been instrumental in your attainment of this position?

Len Hynds:

My background is in the investigation of serious and organised crime - both at a national and international level. I do not have a technical background but I do have skills in relation to liaison with other international law enforcement agencies.


When will we expect to see this new unit up and running - making arrests and making progress in tackling the very crimes that you were talking about?

Len Hynds:

The funding became available on the 1st April but we have a limited capability already. We are already supporting national and local units in their fight against high-tech crime.

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