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New police unit to hunt down cyber crime gangs

Minister vows to take the fight to criminals through a new regional organised crime unit in the Midlands

Organised Crime Minister Karen Bradley

The government minister in charge of tackling organised criminal gangs has vowed to take the fight to cyber crooks through a newly formed regional organised crime unit in the Midlands.

Home Office minister Karen Bradley said fighting cyber gangs that have been blackmailing West Midlands businesses was a top Government priority.

The Post revealed last year how criminals were hijacking sensitive company files before going on to extort monthly fees out of the directors for access to their databases.

The hacker gangs demand regular payments after breaching IT security systems and effectively blackmailing businesses for the release of encryption codes.

The names of the West Midland firms involved have not been made public, but the issue was raised at a meeting of the West Midlands Strategic Policing and Crime Board.

In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post, Home Office minister Karen Bradley said a newly formed Regional Fraud Team was now leading the fight against the hackers.

The team of six Birmingham-based detectives are part of the wider Regional Organised Crime Unit that draws in officers from West Midlands, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and West Mercia Police.

But she said around 80 per cent of cyber crime could be tackled if people and businesses used basic computer security and common sense.

Mrs Bradley said: "Cyber crime is getting bigger and bigger.

"But GCHQ have a statistic that says around 80 per cent of it can be stopped through simple measures like having your malware on, having anti-virus and downloading security software from your bank.

"For the other 20 per cent, we need the National Crime Agency and they are now leading on international work on these issues.

"During the Olympics, there were 45,000 cyber attacks every single day of the games that were mostly around financial issues like ticketing. But there were even people trying to hack into the timer on the 100 metres.

"We stopped every single one of the attacks but by the time of the Sochi Winter Olympics the number of attacks had nearly doubled to 80,000 every day.

"My experience with the NCA is that they look at the overall picture, but it's very much in partnership with local forces."

The Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands said the Government had invested heavily in the new units which fight the growing threats from fraudsters.

She added: "We have put a lot of funding into the regional organised crime units.

"They are part of the NCA but are on the ground with local forces working together in the fight against cyber crime and fraud."

A detective sergeant and five constables make up the new West Midlands Regional Fraud Team, managed by the head of the West Midlands Regional Asset Recovery Team (RART), and it has access to a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, HM Revenue and Customs representative and accountancy-based analysts.

The team has already secured the conviction of Stephen Clark, who was jailed for more than two years last month for a mobile phone swindle valued at £100,000.

The 42-year-old, from Worcestershire, used cash from his Halesowen employer to buy hundreds of mobile phones before forwarding them to businesses run by himself or his friends.

Next month, a small Asset Confiscation Enforcement (ACE) team will be launched after funding was provided by the Home Office.

Speaking about the increasing threat of cyber crime, Professor Ali Abdallah, who lectures on online security and computer science at Birmingham City University, said: "It's not going to go away. It is going to increase in volume, intensity and sophistication.

"Businesses do not really understand or perhaps pay enough attention to cyber security until something big happens. In many of the cases, the security is not really up to scratch on some systems. In the last 10 years, these hackers have become extremely sophisticated."

 

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