It is hoped lessons learned from the partnership between Leeds Beckett University academics and West Yorkshire Police can be passed on to other forces to help tackle the growing threat of cyber-crime.
The £640,000 scheme funded by the Police Knowledge Fund is one of those carried out by the university’s Cybercrime and Security Innovation Centre (CSI Centre), which launches today. It comes after concerns were raised that many police forces are not equipped to tackle crimes using the internet or computer networks.
Dr Z. Cliffe Schreuders, a senior lecturer in computer security at Leeds Beckett and academic lead on the project, said cyber-enabled crime was “a rapidly emerging and ever-evolving threat”, and added: “As technology changes and improves, so do the criminals – which is why the work we’re doing is ambitious and challenging. Our role is to work with West Yorkshire Police, helping to identify areas where they are strong and where they can be improved.
“We have collaborated with all levels of West Yorkshire Police in the last six months to identify potential areas for improvement and the challenge now is to design and evaluate alternative solutions – to bring about improvements.
“A key part of this will be in identifying research projects the police can undertake in collaboration with us, to help improve the way they deal with cyber-enabled crime. We are confident that the work we are doing will help to ensure that police forces across the country are able to fight cyber-crime now, and in the future.”
A study last year claimed a number of the 43 police forces in England and Wales are still “in the starting blocks” in building an effective response to cyber-crime. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said offences involving modern technology are now so common-place that it is “outdated, inappropriate, and wrong” for police to leave it to specialist officers to investigate.
Though crime rates have been falling for several years in most categories, an increasing reliance on the internet means levels of online crime are rising. Home Office research suggests up to about 5.1m people are the victims of cyber-enabled crime every year.
Officials involved in the 18-month project in Leeds will report to the Home Office in the hope that new ways of working could help transform the way digital crime is policed across the country. Yorkshire forces have established their own specialist units to tackle the problem of cyber-crime. West Yorkshire Police’s unit in Wakefield will also provide support to other criminal investigations by using specialist technology and computer software, while North Yorkshire Police launched its team in 2014 as part of a 10-year plan.
Detective Inspector Vanessa Smith, the head of West Yorkshire Police’s cyber-crime team, said: “At the heart of the project is our desire to protect those who are vulnerable to becoming victims of crime and ensuring that they are safe online – not only the residents of West Yorkshire, but the whole UK population.”
The Leeds CSI centre will also be a training base for the next generation of “ethical hackers”. As part of an £80,000 project, hackers will work on breaching security systems and document how they do it, so improvements can be made to internet security.