Will the Met Police's financial crisis impact its war on cyber-crime?

News by Jay Jay

Cuts since 2011 have cost the Met Police more than £700 million in funding, or nearly 40 per cent in real terms, while cyber-crime is rising, and acquiring and keeping cyber-specialists becomes harder.

At the Security and Counter Terror Expo in London in March, Mike Hulett, head of operations at Britain’s National Cyber Crime Unit, told delegates that almost half of all crimes in the UK in 2017 involved cyber in some way, and as many as 68 percent of large businesses in the country were targeted by cyber-crime in the period.

Considering that cyber-crime is rising alarmingly in both scale and complexity, it is essential for law enforcement agencies in the UK to enhance their capabilities quickly to deter or to respond to all forms of cyber-crime to protect the security and privacy of both individuals and corporations.

Appreciating the threat posed by cyber-crime to society, police forces across the UK are not only training their staff in cyber-security and investigating cyber-attacks, but are also launching special projects to help organisations strengthen their response strategies and to impart cyber-security training to all employees.

In May, the City of London Police launched an initiative dubbed Cyber Griffin to offer threat briefings, incident response training, and other guidance to businesses located in London's Square Mile to help them secure themselves better from cyber-threats.

As part of the initiative, the force is now offering free-of-charge threat briefings to arm individuals from all levels of business with basic skills to fight cyber-crime, and helping members of the business community to network with each other and share best practices.

At the same time, the Met Police is also inducting Special Constables who are specialised in cyber and economic crime and training them as per a new ‘gold standard' scheme of recruitment, training, and development. The force hopes to increase the number of Special Constables in its ranks from 53 to over 100 in the coming days.

However, the ability of the Met Police to train special constables or to respond effectively to cyber-crime could be marred by a financial crisis the force is grappling with at the moment.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, recently said that even though the Met Police sold off more than £1 billion worth of property over the past six years, including the New Scotland Yard building and hundreds of flats, buildings and police stations, it is reaching a "breaking point" and is unable to recruit sufficient number of constables to fight violent crime.

"We've sold the Crown Jewels, so to speak. We've run out of things to sell. This is really, really, worrying for society. At the end of the day they have all been sold so that we don't have to cut police officers. That is shocking.

"The government talks a good talk, always praising us and saying how brilliant we are. But when it actually comes to it, you know, there's officers around the country using food banks," he said.

"You get to breaking point because we're not social workers, we're not mental health specialists - but now my colleagues are having to deal with all these things on a daily basis. That just has a massive drain on your resources. It will eventually crack," he added.

Marsh isn't the first to publicly talk about the weakening financial condition of the Met Police. In May, Commissioner Cressida Dick said that budget cuts to the force's budget directly contributed to a rise in violent crime, adding that the force was forced to practice austerity, was short of £300 million, and urgently needed an additional 500 officers. Periodic budget cuts since 2011 have cost the Met Police more than £700 million in funding, or nearly 40 per cent in real terms, forcing it to sell off assets that it owned since the 19th century.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, promised to invest an additional £110 million into the Metropolitan Police this year, and this included £55 million for new police buildings and new technology, and £5 million for recruiting additional police officers.

According to Cressida Dick, even though the Met Police is spending the additional funds on recruiting new people, the fact is that the force needs to recruit 1,800 a year just to replace those leaving and retiring. Based on Marsh's comments, its fair to assume that the additional funding may not sustain the force for longer periods and more will be needed in the coming years.

"It's unfortunate to see the Met Police budget being impacted at a time where acquiring cyber-security skills is of utmost importance," said Javvad Malik, security advocate at AlienVault, to SC Media UK.

"The most important aspect would be for the police force to have the right people with the required skillset on the force. Where this is not possible, then it should look at expanding its collaboration efforts to draw on cyber-security expertise from the private sector.

"Other expenses come in the form of having the right technical tools in place. For that, the Met Police should consider looking at its overall technology purchases and invest in security platforms that can offer the biggest return on investment through extensive integration with existing technology purchases," he added.

According to Nick Murison, managing consultant at Synopsys, keeping cyber-crime officers is, in itself, a major challenge for police forces. "Hiring talent is hard due to the expense and security clearance requirements while homegrown skills are tempted away by private sector salaries, despite the rewarding nature of the job," he said.

"A continual investment in skills, processes and technology is required to ensure [cyber-crime] activities can be identified and accurately investigated. Training regular officers in how to identify and handle cases of suspected cyber-crime is not a one-off exercise, meaning an ongoing investment in training will be hard to avoid if officers are expected to remain up to date.

"Whether the Met rely on private forensic labs to handle most of the specialised evidence gathering work, or they invest in the capabilities in-house, both require a significant financial commitment," he said.

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