Cyber crime will become as commonplace as shoplifting in South Yorkshire, senior cop predicts

New challenges: Police will learn to investigate cyber crime as routine duties in future.
New challenges: Police will learn to investigate cyber crime as routine duties in future.
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Cyber crime is expected to grow to such levels that all police recruits will be expected to learn the basics of investigating offences as part of their initial training in future, one of South Yorkshire’s most senior officers has predicted.

Reports of online crime in the county ballooned by 40 per cent in the space of only 12 months, from 2,600 to 3,782 for the year ending in March but police think those figures are only the tip of the iceberg, with many victims opting not to report crimes or attempted offences – though in future businesses will be legally obliged to do so because of changes to legislation.

Some types of online crime – such as the release of the virus which crippled parts of the NHS – are investigated nationally or regionally because their impact is not confined within the borders of any one force.

But other cyber crimes are investigated by the force, which has now assembled a nine strong unit, led by a detective sergeant, to oversee the work.

It is possible that will expand further, with police looking to outside funding to help support its work.

However, it is expected that cyber crime will become such a dominant part of overall crime in future that is not expected specialists will be able to deal with all investigations.

Already the South Yorkshire force has introduced mobile phone examination kiosks, where the information stored on a handset can be downloaded, with 200 officers being trained to use them.

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber said: “You simply cannot enforce your way out of this, that is impossible.

“Offenders can be sat at a laptop in the Ukraine doing it. Making people far better aware of cyber security and looking after their own cyber interests is absolutely critical,” he said.

One of the specialist unit is a Cyber Protect Officer, a role which involves helping to educate those at risk from offenders in the simple tactics which can be used to prevent attempted crimes succeeding.

But in future he believes online offending will be seen in the same way that traditional crimes are today, with an expectation that officers will gain the skills to investigate basic offences as their training proceeds.

“Where I would envisage enforcement is going in future is that it will be a standard crime, like shoplifting,” he said.

“We have started training 200 officers on what a mobile phone download looks like and the ability to look at an online crime scene and investigate it, like sticking a piece of tape around a physical crime scene.

“I think we need to create a lead team to investigate the more complicated offences, but we have to look at training probationers to make sure every police officer has the skills to investigate basic cyber crime and has the ability to download digital material.”

Police work around assessing the full impact of cyber crime has been hampered by the fact that many victims are reluctant to contact the authorities.

Private citizens may not want to do so out of embarrassment at acknowledging they have been duped by a fraudster, but for commercial targets there is often also a fear that any public knowledge of the impact of cyber crime could have an adverse effect on their business.

However, recent changes adopted by the Government mean any business affected by online crime is now required to report it, with police expecting a rise in known offences as a result.