British 'FBI' takes fight to cyber criminals

News by Tim Ring

The UK has set up a national cyber crime fighting team as part of the newly formed 4,500-strong National Crime Agency (NCA) - dubbed the 'British FBI'.

The NCA, which started life on Monday 9th October, includes the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) which will spearhead Britain's efforts to combat cyber crime, taking over from the Metropolitan Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) and the Cyber division of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). 

The aim is to create a more streamlined and ‘joined-up' team who will take the fight to cyber criminals, disrupting their activities and identifying the individuals behind the UK's most serious cyber crime. 

The NCCU also plans to recruit cyber experts from the private sector as ‘special constables' to help in its efforts. 

“We are recruiting NCA specials – people with particular skills and that would include cyber and IT experts,” an NCA spokesman said.

The NCCU is led by former Soca cyber boss Andy Archibald, who is interim leader while a permanent head is recruited.

According to the NCA, it “has the capability to respond in fast time to rapidly changing threats and collaborates with partners to reduce cyber and cyber-enabled crime.” As part of that, the NCCU will feature a new cyber emergency response team.

The NCCU's launch has been welcomed, though one leading cyber crime expert warns it may struggle to find enough cyber crime specialists.

Charlie McMurdie, who set up and led the Met Police PCeU and is now a senior cyber crime adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that the NCCU “presents great opportunities” but “resourcing is a challenge”. 

She told SC Magazine the NCCU will potentially have more staff than its precursors. “But it's not quite there yet - you can't put everyone into position on day one. And you can't strip all enforcement capability from police units, so the challenge is to ensure they have the right resources.”

McMurdie believes the NCCU has the ability to “take on the higher echelons of cyber criminals” and that it will work closely with industry, though she emphasises “businesses have to play a role in protecting their own networks”.

The NCA has an annual budget of almost £500 million and its 4,500 officers are fighting an estimated 37,000 criminals involved in organised and serious crime, which costs the UK more than £24 billion a year. 

It replaces Soca and a number of other agencies, but Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has called the move a “rebranding” that involves a budget cut of 20%.

The NCA's remit covers organised crime, economic crime, border policing and online child protection as well as cyber crime.

NCA head Keith Bristow has urged the UK Government to remain part of the European-wide Europol police agency, according to a Guardian report. The Government has refused to commit to future co-operation with Europol over fears that reforms to the agency could undermine national security by forcing Britain to share information with other countries. But Bristow feels intelligence and information sharing within Europol is crucial to beating organised crime. 

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