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December 10, 2010

Met calls on geek help to plug cuts – or not, as it happens

Gary Flood looks at the Met's plan to hire students to help fight cybercrime



Despite a lovely story in London daily paper The Evening Standard, the Metropolitan Police Force of London says it is not employing 12 PhD students to help fight cybercrime.

However, the story and its apparent rebuttal does highlight an important ongoing issue with resourcing that the head of the Met has already highlighted (more of which in a sec).

The source story suggested that "Scotland Yard is to recruit some of Britain’s most talented computer students to join the battle against Internet crooks [with] a 12-strong ‘geek squad’ will be hired to work alongside detectives as they try to stop cybercrime."
The report quoted a cop ‘insider,’ who told the breathless hacks, "The IT world moves so quickly we need to keep up to date with new ideas. We hope the students will be able to refresh our knowledge. They will be at the cutting edge of investigation."

The students – all information security postgrads, one presumes – were to be enrolled as contractors at the Forces’ Police Central e-Crime Unit.

The story quotes as grounds the Met’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Janet Williams, who says there were 300 staff in hi-tech crime units across the UK as a whole and 40 in the Yard and that "Police have already created a ‘virtual task force,’ including officials from banks and financial institutions as well as academics, who can be called up online for help."

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Now the Cyber Rozzers are only prepared to say that, "Employing academic students as a way of enabling the unit to expand on its current operational activity is an option currently under consideration. However, no definitive decision has been made at this time."

The story behind the story here is of course the fact that the Police say the e-Crime Unit is already underfunded and under-resourced.

As we reported in October, Sir Paul Stephenson – the Met’s Commissioner – wrote a strong piece in a Sunday newspaper which said a withholding of a projected £1m for the Unit’s 2010-11 budget, a victim of the first round of post-election Coalition cuts, was poor value for money given the effectiveness and ‘bang per buck’ of what the team can achieve. And indeed, in the Standard story, Williams is quoted along the lines of her boss – that there is around a 1:21 ratio in terms of pounds invested in the Unit versus dosh recovered, and that in one recent operation, her lads nicked a gang targeting £22m of customers’ money.

Given the story this week that malware, phishing and spam are approaching intolerable levels, as a taxpayer I want my Home Secretary, Theresa May, to give Williams the money for 24 bloody PhDs, 36, 72 indeed, if she and Stephenson think they need them. And not stop there – hire security people at the local law enforcement, national and spook level, as many as we can afford.

Otherwise, what the heck is all this blather about the £650m we need to spend apparently on a national cyber security strategy we heard about in November? Remember that statement by Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey, "It can only be a matter of time before terrorists begin to use cyber space more systematically, not just as a tool for their own organisation, but as a method of attack"?

We live in scary times. Let’s find ways to make them less so, as far as we can.

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