Recent TalkTalk attack underlines warnings that crime is increasingly being perpetrated and fought online.
Last week TalkTalk’s chief executive had to apologise to customers after a “significant and sustained cyber attack” on its website left millions of people potentially at risk of having had their credit card and bank details stolen.
Senior police have repeatedly singled out cyber crime as one of the key challenges facing law enforcement agencies in the present and the future.
The capacity of authorities to combat the danger posed by hackers to the country’s infrastructure could come under scrutiny as forces brace for fresh budget cuts next month.
Despite the internet having been embedded in daily life for years, it was only last week that the first reliable estimates of the scale of online crime in the UK were released.
Research by the Office for National Statistics found there were an estimated 2.5 million incidents which fall under the Computer Misuse Act in the last year.
In context, that is the equivalent of nearly 7,000 offences every day, while the data also suggested that on average one in 22 people has fallen victim to cyber crime.
The most common cyber offences involved victims’ devices being infected by a virus, while the category also included hacking of emails and social media accounts.
However, as apparently demonstrated by the TalkTalk incident, there is also the potential for more sophisticated attacks which target vast troves of personal data.
When Sara Thornton, chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, sparked a furore by suggesting burglary victims may not always be visited at home, she made the point that forces need to shift their focus away from “traditional” offences in the wake of budget squeezes and staff cuts.
She said: “Crime is changing in this country. There are a lot less burglaries than there used to be and a lot less car crime.
“The sorts of crimes that are on the increase - sexual offences, concerns about terrorism, cyber crime - that’s where we really need to focus.”
The country’s most senior officer, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, admitted that police are just “skimming the surface” in tackling cyber crime.
Scotland Yard has created a squad of around 300 officers dedicated to the issue, he said, with the number likely to expand to 500 over the coming year.
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