Many modern criminals may use computers to carry out crimes, but they still
have a lot in common with East End gangsters such as the Krays.
New technology, but old crimes
So said Bill Hughes, head of the UK's National Crime Squad and a keynote speaker at the E-Crime Congress.
Mr Hughes said growing use of computers was not spawning a generation of new criminals committing new crimes.
Instead, many of the crimes were well-worn favourites with criminals such as extortion, fraud and theft.
"Not a lot has changed in the way that criminals operate, they just have new ways to carry out crimes", said Mr Hughes at the meeting organised by the UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit to debate ways of tackling tech-savvy villains.
Currently in vogue among criminals, he said, were denial-of-service scams that simply put a modern gloss on old-fashioned protection rackets run by gangsters like the Krays.
But, he said, what must change was the way that police forces, governments and companies work together to catch criminals who turn to computers to carry out crimes.
Hi-tech crime causes headaches for businesses and individuals
Now every police force in England and Wales has a dedicated hi-tech crime team that specialises in tackling e-crime and help other police officers gather electronic evidence to back up other investigations.
The E-Crime Congress, organised around the theme of 'Designing Out Hi-Tech Crime', was intended to deepen dialogue and co-operation between those hit by crimes and those investigating it.
Several speakers on the opening day said that neither businesses nor law enforcement agencies could solve the problem alone. Both had to work together.
Initiatives such as the Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit, which unites the police and industry group that processes card payments, and the greater use of technology experts to advise police forces, were mentioned as good examples of co-operation by Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley and Parliamentary Under Secretary for reducing organised crime and international crime.
She said their ambition was not to make the internet something that people fear.
Businesses were also getting happier talking to the police when they were the victim of e-crimes, said Len Hynds, head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.
"Industry cannot address the problem any longer by ignoring it," he said.
A survey released by the NHTCU showed that 24% of organisations were now telling the police about e-crime incidents they had suffered.
Mr Hynds said this was in stark contrast to the past when hardly any firms came forward with information.
He added that The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has provisions that let companies and individuals be treated as a Covert Human Intelligence Sources whose identity is kept secret but whose information can be acted upon.
Mr Hynds said that the NHTCU was also strengthening co-operation with foreign law enforcement agencies to help track down criminals that target UK businesses.
So far, he said, it had links with forces in more than 169 countries to swap information and pursue criminals.
Also mentioned on the opening day was work by the UK government to update the Computer Misuse Act which became law long before many e-crimes were first known.
Lawyers and police chiefs said that sometimes it was a stretch to make this 1990 Act cover what some criminals did now.
"Some acts do not represent clear cut offences under current criminal law," said Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
His view was echoed by Miranda Moore QC, who said there was a question hanging over what in so-called Denial-of-Service attacks was actually illegal.
The second E-Crime Congress was held in London from 24 to 25 February and was attended by more than 400 delegates from law enforcement agencies, business and government.