London Police Retool for Cybercrime

'Falcon' Taskforce Will Lead Investigations
London Police Retool for Cybercrime

London's Metropolitan Police force has announced sweeping changes to its plans for fighting online crime and fraud. The force's organizational evolution may provide a blueprint for other police forces as they struggle to keep pace with the increasing number of cases that feature some type of "cyber" component.

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Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe recently announced the changes as part of the launch of a new police taskforce, code-named Falcon - for "fraud and linked crime online." The Met group will investigate complex cybercrime, including hacking cases; acquisitive crime with an online component - including fraudsters operating online; as well as fraud that doesn't have an online component. The group is already investigating a variety of online scams, covering everything from criminals launching online dating schemes and defrauding people via online auctions to telephone scams and retail theft.

The Met says the creation of Falcon reflects the increasing amount of fraud that gets committed via online attacks, as well as the tendency for criminals to use related profits to fund organized crime and terrorism activities. "Falcon will see the Met have the best and, I believe, largest cybercrime and fraud team in Europe, with up to 500 specialist officers dedicated to tackling this crime," Hogan-Howe said at the Falcon launch.

The British Retail Consortium, a trade association, has welcomed the launch of Falcon. "The creation of Falcon, and indeed the new dedicated business crime strategy for London, represents an important step forward in tackling retail crime," says Helen Dickinson, the consortium's director general. "The close engagement between police and businesses in London is a partnership approach which we would like to see replicated elsewhere."

The Met says it's tracking about 200 gangs around the world that are responsible for the majority of cybercrime and fraud that hits U.K. businesses and consumers.

For the 12 months leading up to August 2014, 17,000 fraud reports that were filed with Action Fraud, which is the U.K.'s national center for fraud reporting, were referred to the Metropolitan Police. Of those reports, roughly half involved some online component, and for 30 percent, the victims were businesses. But overall, incidents of fraud are "massively under-reported" to police, says Stephen Greenhalgh, London's deputy mayor for policing and crime. His office reports that only about 12 percent of crimes that target businesses - many of which involve fraud - get reported to police.

Falcon Focus: Online Crime

Detective Chief Superintendent Jayne Snelgrove, who heads Falcon, says in a recent news report that her group, which has a headcount of 300 people so far, already has 3,000 investigations under way and has made about 100 related arrests. While some of those groups are based in the United Kingdom, Snelgrove says investigators are also tracking criminals operating from other parts of Europe, as well as Russia and the United States.

Alan Woodward discusses the London Metropolitan Police Falcon taskforce.

Security expert Alan Woodward, a visiting professor at the department of computing at the University of Surrey in England, says the Met's launch of Falcon is designed to show who will be responsible for investigating online crime, even though the Met has already had related capabilities. "What we're seeing now is a re-emphasis. What they're doing is saying, 'look, cybercrime is a major thing.' It's becoming a significant plank of what they do in terms of fraud investigations, certainly. And what they're doing is basically gathering everything together under one roof, a bit like other agencies have done," he says. "We've seen National Crime Agency in the U.K. doing something very similar; they've got their High Tech Cybercrime Unit. You've seen Europol do it. It's not surprising the police are doing it."

Woodward, who's also a cybercrime advisor to Europol, predicts that police forces across England and Wales may likewise centralize their cybercrime resources and investigations, especially given the scarce supply of people with the requisite skills.

Launching Falcon, and the Met's stated plan to establish four related hubs around London - where the vast majority of the U.K.'s cybercrime victims are located - should serve as a recruitment tool, Woodward says. "One of the difficulties they're having is just finding people with the right skills," he says. "It's not easy to get them. ... And it's really quite difficult to see where they're all going to come from."

About the Author

Mathew J. Schwartz

Mathew J. Schwartz

Executive Editor, DataBreachToday & Europe, ISMG

Schwartz is an award-winning journalist with two decades of experience in magazines, newspapers and electronic media. He has covered the information security and privacy sector throughout his career. Before joining Information Security Media Group in 2014, where he now serves as the executive editor, DataBreachToday and for European news coverage, Schwartz was the information security beat reporter for InformationWeek and a frequent contributor to DarkReading, among other publications. He lives in Scotland.

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