Police Scotland has announced it will create a cybersecurity Centre of Excellence to train police officers to fight cybercrime.
The centre will employ 150 specialist staff – 100 staff currently working in cybercrime plus an additional 50, with plans to expand recruitment at a later date.
A recent Policing Performance report by Police Scotland found that the number of cybercrimes in the country nearly tripled between 2018 and 2019, from 1,426 to 4,495. This is against a 27% decrease in traditional crimes over the past decade.
Officers will be trained to deal with offences such as child sexual abuse, fraud, and the sharing of indecent images. According to Police Scotland, the Covid-19 pandemic has also seen a rise in online sex crimes against children.
June saw the highest total of child sexual abuse reports of any month in history. A total of 226 crimes were recorded, a 21% increase on the same month last year and up 34% on the five-year national average. The three-month total for April, May and June was 530.
In addition to sexual crimes, fraud is a major concern for cybercrime enforcement, with the internet playing a growing role in cases. In its Annual Police Plan 2020/2021, Police Scotland warned that fraudsters were increasingly turning to digital technology.
According to data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), 3.2 million incidents of fraud were experienced by 5.9% of adults in the year ending September 2017. The CSEW estimated that a total of 56% of fraud incidents involved the internet or other online activity, or around 1.8 million incidents.
Another growing area of cybercrime is stalking and harassment, with Police Scotland warning that 67% of these crimes now have a digital element.
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Deputy chief constable Malcolm Graham said: “The nature of crime is changing and Police Scotland needs to change with it. The online space is becoming a bigger part of the front line of policing every day.
“As well as keeping people safe on the streets, our officers and staff are keeping children safe on their computers and smartphones in every community in Scotland.
“While cybercrimes are under-reported, we know we are stopping vulnerable people from being defrauded and adapting our techniques in response to criminals who are doing the same.
“These officers may not be visible. They may not be patrolling in cars, but the work they do is just as important, and the threats they are dealing with are on the rise.”
The Cyber-Crime in Scotland Report estimated that the internet was used in at least 20% of all sexual crimes recorded by the police in Scotland in 2016/17
The report also revealed that the number and proportion of ‘other sexual crimes’ which involved the internet recorded by the police had increased – in 2016/17, 51% of ‘other sexual crimes’ were cyber-enabled, up from 38% in 2013/14.
Graham continued: “The rapid increase in online abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people and children, either for financial gain or for sexual purposes, underlines the need for change.
“The centre will provide the necessary increased support for the increasing cyber inquiries, investigation and prevention work. This will allow us to deliver support, training and guidance to Local Policing officers, giving them the tools to address the number of concerns raised daily. The additional officers will expand our existing capacity in cybercrime intelligence, investigations, research and development, and digital forensics.
“We know that the service has to have the ability to respond to current and emerging national and international threats and risks. The Cyber Strategy 2020 sets out a clear pathway and underlines our commitment to working with our partners, sharing expertise from all sectors to tackle the threat and harm head-on.”
The creation of the cyber centre forms part of Police Scotland’s Cyber Strategy 2020.
A presentation, Keeping People Safe in the Digital World, will see the Scottish Police Authority outline its plan to tackle the threat of digitally-enabled crimes on 30 September.
It will also set out steps to tackle the threat to individuals, businesses and public sector organisations from cyber-attacks and other online crime.