Cumbria Constabulary and Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, have launched a new Cyber and Digital Crime Unit to deal with the growing world of online offending.
The commissioner and constabulary have invested in additional specialist services to deter digital criminals – and help the victims they target.
In another example of the unseen policing going on behind the scenes every day to tackle offending and protect people, the dedicated digital experts are providing an improved police service to both individuals and businesses.
The unit, based at Cumbria Constabulary headquarters, near Penrith, is up-and-running following a pledge by Peter McCall to increase funding to fight cyber crime.
This followed a rise – backed by the majority of the public who were surveyed last year – in the police precept of the council tax bill in Cumbria, the part that pays for policing.
Newly recruited staff and officers who are experts in their field have taken up positions in the Cyber and Digital Crime Unit.
The unit delivers an improved force-level capability to investigate and pursue offenders and help businesses and people protect themselves from attack.
Crimes tackled by the unit include online sex crimes such as sharing, viewing and downloading indecent images, including where there is sexual abuse of a child.
It covers offences such as hacking, digital fraud and online exploitation.
The unit also forensically examines digital devices seized during police investigations.
Behind the scenes, these types of crimes can involve long and complex investigations, including detailed examination of digital equipment.
Offenders often do not live in county boundaries, providing a new challenge to police.
With changes in society and technology, the number of these types of crimes continue to grow – so the unit are placed to deal with an increasing problem.
National referrals of this type of crime have risen massively in the past five years and these are often passed to local forces.
So far this year Cumbria Constabulary have received more than 50 referrals of cases which must be investigated.
Criminals carrying out cyber-enabled or cyber-dependent crimes have received prison sentences totalling more than 60 years following work by Cumbria officers in the last year.
Detective Inspector Ian Harwood leads the new unit.
He said: “We are delighted to show the public what their council tax is paying for – an improved service to protect anybody who uses a digital device.
“In this day and age, that includes most of us. If you shop online, use social media or use email to communicate you could fall victim to an online criminal if you do not take care.
“Cyber criminals can hide behind their screens.
“But their actions can have a huge impact on businesses, individuals, vulnerable members of society and children.
“This new team is crucial in order to prevent people from entering the world of cyber criminality by providing early intervention and diversion, protect our communities by providing good, up to date and simple advice to reduce the risk of becoming a victim, prepare ourselves to effectively deal with cybercrime or a significant cyber-attack and finally, we will be in a much better position to pursue those who commit cybercrime and bring them to justice.”
Mr McCall said: “It is great news that Cumbria Constabulary have been able to use the additional funding raised through council tax precept to fund this new cyber unit.
“Increasingly, we are more likely to be a victim of crime through our online activities than at any other time.
“This is why it is essential to invest in this area, to ensure that we have the technology in place to tackle this difficult and growing crime.
“Traditionally cybercrime is not an offence that people may think of as a ‘day-to-day’ policing matter.
“The digital world is a dangerous world and the modern threats and risks of online criminals, as they hide behind their screens, faceless and anonymous, has significantly increased.
“Offences such as internet fraud, online grooming, cyber stalking and child sexual exploitation, where criminals focus on the most vulnerable as an easy target, are happening here in Cumbria.
“Being able to invest in additional specialist services and increase the number of cybercrime experts within the Cyber and Digital Crime Unit, will help and support us in staying one step ahead of online crime.
“People often ask me about increasing police presence ‘on the beat’.
“I agree that this is an important priority and the additional 25 officers within the neighbourhood community teams have had a big impact and made a real difference.
“In addition, I will often refer to the unseen element of policing, of which our Cyber and Digital Crime Unit is an excellent example.
“The large number of policing hours invested into specialist cybercrime cases may not be as visible, but is none the less, just as important.”
DI Harwood added: “The specialist officers and staff are in place to tackle and deter crime in what is becoming a busier and more demanding area of policing.
“One of the challenges in policing is keeping up with changing trends in crime.
“And cybercrime is something that has become more of a threat as people become more familiar with using computers and other devices for day-to-day life.
“Criminals will also exploit any new method available to commit their offences – and we need to keep one step ahead of them.
“We work hard together with our partners to highlight the threat and to prevent people from falling victim.
“We would urge people to be vigilant of all the threats that exist online and to protect themselves as best they can.”
HOW IT WORKS
As an example of the demand involved, the team is currently dealing with nearly 50 ongoing indecent image cases.
When it comes to investigation, the unit responds to information from members of the public, victim disclosures and police intelligence and packages or referrals from other agencies.
Once information has been developed and risk assessed, tactics can see detectives execute warrants or go to addresses where criminal activity is suspected.
Those identified as being responsible are liable to arrest.
Their houses are searched and items which are capable of being used to commit such offences are seized.
Devices which can help the technical side of the investigation may be seized to help in identifying suspects and evidence.
Due to the increasing use of digital equipment, as well as the need for a thorough review of the evidence, investigations of this type can take a long time, further emphasising the need for the increase in resources.
Dealing with indecent image cases is a big part of the work.
DI Harwood added: “This is a growing area of crime, with offenders viewing and sharing indecent images online where there is clear sexual abuse of a child.
“When a package or referral comes into the unit we will develop all the information thoroughly before attending an address to speak with those living there.
“Our investigations will see us look through numerous devices.
“These can include laptops, game consoles, tablets and phones to find images or videos that constitute a criminal offence.
“We have seen all types of people from all walks of life and professions prosecuted for such offences.
“It can be the case that those living with an offender know nothing of what they are viewing online.
“Therefore there is a devastating impact on the families of offenders – as well as for those committing the crimes themselves.
“My officers often encounter upsetting and distressing material during these types of investigation.
“However, such is the dedication of the team, their focus is always to keep Cumbria safe by protecting people, including the vulnerable and children, and bringing criminals to justice.”
HOW IT IS STRUCTURED WITHIN THE NEW UNIT
A digital forensic team is responsible for examination and data extraction from digital devices, including mobile phones and computers.
A digital media investigation team is primarily responsible for investigating online child sexual abuse, including the making and sharing of indecent images of children. They will assist with other crime types with a complex cyber-enabled or online feature.
A cyber team are primarily responsible for preventing, preparing, protecting people from and pursuing cyber dependant crime.
WHAT ARE CYBER CRIMES?
A cyber dependant crime is when a computer system and/or the internet is exploited to attack another computer or network system for some form of gain, reaction, kudos or harm. Examples include hacking, denial of service, ransomware and malware.
The team also assist with complex cyber enabled crime, where their expertise may be of assistance. A cyber enabled crime is one of any existing crime type which is transformed in scale, speed or reach by the use of computers and the internet, for example fraud, child sexual exploitation, making and distribution of illegal images of children.
STAYING AHEAD OF HACKERS – HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FRAUD
CHOOSING THE BEST PASSWORDS – ADVICE FROM GET SAFE ONLINE:
- Always use a password.
- Use a strong, separate password for your email account.
- To create a strong password, choose three random words. Numbers, symbols and combinations of upper and lower case can be used if you feel you need to create a stronger password.
DO NOT USE THE FOLLOWING AS PASSWORDS:
- Your user name, actual name or business name.
- Family members’ or pets’ names.
- Your birthday or family birthdays.
- Favourite football or sport team or other words easy to work out with a little background knowledge.
- The word “password”.
- Numerical sequences.
- A single commonplace dictionary word, which could be cracked by common hacking programmes.
- Ascending or descending numbers – such as 1234 or 4321 – duplicating numbers – such as 1111 – or easily recognisable keypad patterns.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR PASSWORDS
- Never disclose your passwords to anyone else.
- If you think that someone else knows your password, change it straight away.
- Do not enter your password when others can see what you are typing.
- Use a different password for every website.
- Do not recycle passwords (for example password2, password3).
- Do not send your password by email. No reputable firm will ask you to do this.
CASE STUDY – AN EXAMPLE OF THE KIND OF OFFENDER THIS UNIT DEALS WITH
A man has been jailed for eight years after he impersonated a woman online and invited people to abuse a child.
Stuart Westwood, 46, of Andover Street, Barrow, had set up false profiles of a woman on internet dating sites.
Westwood pretended to be the woman and engaged in conversation with men online.
The content of the conversation was always the sexual abuse of a child by the woman.
The fake profiles were used to engage in conversation with random men, some of whom had a sexual interest in children.
The woman was tormented for more than a year by unwanted gifts and male callers.
She no longer felt safe. The woman became afraid to be seen in public and paranoid that anyone engaging with her may be her stalker.
But investigations led to Westwood being arrested and charged.
Following his arrest on October 11 2018, the false profiles stopped communicating online.
Detective Inspector Harwood added: “In this case Westwood committed his crimes, abusing the power of the digital age and the internet, thinking he could hide behind cyber technology.
“I wish to reassure the communities of Cumbria that such activity will not frustrate our commitment to pursue these types of criminals and we are well-resourced to do so following investment in recruitment, equipment and training.”