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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 10:25 GMT
Government 'failing on e-crime'
By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

Keyboard in shadow
Responsibility for investigating e-crime is split between agencies
IT chiefs at some of the UK's biggest companies have accused the government of failing to take e-crime seriously.

Members of the Corporate IT Forum have demanded that the Home Office keeps a promise to establish a police unit to deal with high-tech criminal gangs.

They say the abolition of the National High Tech Crime Unit in 2006 left a vacuum in the investigation of e-crime.

The Home Office said it takes the issue "seriously" and has allocated funding to make reporting cyber-crime easier.

But members of the Corporate IT Forum, a professional body for industry computer experts, claim that crimes have to be reported to local police who do not have the training to understand complex cases.

"It's a practical nonsense," said David Roberts, Chief Executive of the Corporate IT Forum.

"You can imagine the response an IT officer would get reporting a complex attack at their local police station - how is your local PC going to cope? It's a damning indictment of how little the Home Office understands 21st Century high-tech crime".

Global concern

Companies in the UK say they are dealing with a rising tide of electronic crime.

The threat includes denial of service attacks, where corporate websites are taken out of action and money is demanded by hackers, and "phishing", where fake websites are used to try to obtain banking details.

One member of the Corporate IT Forum claimed that after reporting a phishing attack their only contact was with a "very confused policeman".

They said that the police "urgently need support so that they understand that phishing doesn't involve rods and nets".

The responsibility for investigating e-crime is now split between local police forces, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and MI5.

Last month MI5 warned that British companies faced the threat of cyber-attacks from China. But companies fear that competing claims on the agencies' time - such as the battle against international terrorism - mean the investigation of high-tech crime does not get the resources it deserves.

Security measures

Senior figures in the IT world have now signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling on the Prime Minister " to give the formation of a police central e-crime unit¿urgent priority."

They say the loss of the child benefit records of 25m people by HM Revenue and Customs makes the creation of a unit which could address crimes such as identity theft from data centres all the more urgent.

The Home Office said that government takes "seriously all forms of crime" and that legislation has been passed to help prosecute cyber criminals, particularly those that "steal data and attack IT systems, or who create the technical mechanisms to support such attacks".

"The Government has allocated £28m over three years to implement the recommendations of the Fraud Review, which will include setting up the National Fraud Reporting Centre," the Home Office said in a statement.

"This will provide a one-stop shop for reporting fraud, including electronic fraud. The Home Office is also considering ACPO [Association of Chief Police Officers] proposals on tackling computer crime at the national level."

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