Police launch new squad to crack down on cyber-crime

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Kent Police have set up a new division to tackle the growing threat to businesses of cyber crime.

Protecting businesses from criminals who use computers and the internet will be at the ‘very centre’ of police priorities, according to Matthew Scott, the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner.

Speaking to an audience of small business owners at the Old Fire Station in Tonbridge last week, Mr Scott launched his ‘Community Safety and Criminal Justice Plan’, which sets out the county force’s priorities over the next four years.

He said: “Crime is important, no matter where it takes place. You might think that for me, talking as a politician, that means just rural and urban crime.

“It’s not. Crimes that affect residents and crimes that affect businesses should be given equal fairness and equal treatment.”

Mr Scott said he is committed to holding the Kent Chief Constable, Alan Pughsley, accountable for protecting businesses with the force ‘refocusing toward cyber-crime’.

A new division has been established, with all personnel recruited, and will begin operations in the spring. It will work in collaboration with Essex Police’s Cyber Crime Unit.

Nationally online fraud is the most common crime in the country, with almost one in ten people falling victim according to the annual Crime Survey of England and Wales.

Kent is the only county in the South East which saw an increase in cyber-crime last year, with 7,389 incidents recorded between September 2015 – 2016, an eight per cent rise.

Although the actual figure is expected to be much higher as it is estimated that only 6.2 per cent of cases are reported because victims either feel embarrassed or believe little can be done.

Alex Styles, a risk management specialist who attended the Old Fire Station event, said: “The average cost of a cyber-crime attack on a small business is in the region of £6,000. But this doesn’t take account for lost time, often people are not able to operate for two or three days.”

He added that small businesses were now being targeted more often, ‘due to negligence, ignorance or innocence’, they are much more vulnerable than bigger firms.

The most recent tactic of fraudsters is to use ‘whaling’ – where hackers send fake emails from CEOs to finance departments to release money to the criminal’s bank account. It often works as ‘who would ignore what appears to be a genuine email from the CEO?’

The situation is only going to get worse, he anticipates, as cyber-crime is being used by organised groups, ‘rather than solely teenagers in their bedrooms’.

Types of cyber-crime

  1. Phishing– The aim is to trick people into handing over their card details or access to protected systems. Emails are sent out that contain links or attachments that take you to a website that looks like your bank’s, or installs malware on your system. It’s estimated 23 per cent of people open phishing emails.
  2. Identity theft- Criminals use online ‘fraud forums’ to buy and sell credit cards, email addresses and passports.
  3. Hacking- It is estimated that 90 per cent of all data records that were used in a crime was a result of hackers employed by organised crime.

Mental Health

Mr Scott also explained how an estimated 33 per cent of Kent Police’s time is spent dealing with individuals with a mental health illness  a situation he believes is ‘unsustainable’.

He has therefore ring-fenced £250,000 to help alleviate the ‘increasing reliance on Kent Police to assist those in mental health crisis’. Mr Scott admitted ‘it isn’t a vast amount of money’ but argued it was a ‘bold statement of intent’ to prioritise the issue and will go towards funding ‘locally led projects’, from charities to provide services for people with mental health issues.

In Tonbridge there is the proposal to have a ‘Crisis Café’ in West Kent Mind’s premises in St. Mary’s Road. It will offer a place of safety for those experiencing problems as an alternative to a police cell or a hospital bed, which can often be more distressing and further worsening an individual’s mental wellbeing.

Mr Scott conceded that he wished he could spend more but currently, Kent Police lost 19 per cent of their budget between 2010-2015.

“It’s a big challenge, we are looking for another £30million so we can just stand still,” he said.

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