At the beginning of October, Policing Minister Vernon Coaker announced the launch of a new ￡7m policing unit to tackle cyber crime and Internet fraud. But while the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) was welcomed in some quarters, there have already been concerns voiced by politicians, IT experts and businesses about the relatively small amount of funding available to target a multi-billion pound criminal industry, and questions over the Government's real level of commitment to cracking down on Internet crime. There's little doubt that the Government needed to take some sort of action on Internet crime as, since the closure of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) in 2006, there have been claims of a major gap in the fight against cyber criminals. The NHTCU had been a high profile organisation, launched amidst a blaze of publicity and with ￡25m of funding. By comparison the e-crime unit of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) was a much more reserved organisation, with a lower profile. Unfortunately that approach has been interpreted by some businesses as representing a lack of support for those being targeted by online criminals. In March this year, Catherine Bowen, head of crime policy at the British Retail Consortium, said that SOCA had failed to maintain the links developed between industry and the NHTCU, and that the retail sector seemed "to have fallen off the bottom of the scale" as far as policing was concerned since the Unit had been merged with SOCA. There were similar fears raised by the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses, which described the policing arrangements on cyber crime as "lamentable". In fact SOCA has had more impressive results than many realised. The Agency's 2007-08 report, published in May this year, highlighted notable cyber crime success including Operation Ajowan, which broke up a web-based crime ring where criminals traded stolen bank, credit and identity information that could have cost the UK finance sector at least ￡6m. SOCA also sent out 46 alerts to UK business, including 11 alerts to UK financial institutions detailing more than 46,000 online account details that had been compromised by phishing and virus attacks. But while the Agency rightly stated that there were now more staffing resources targeted directly at Internet crime than in the days of the NHTCU, it was also clear that cyber criminals were not a major priority for SOCA, at least not compared with the government-set priorities of drug-trafficking, organised immigration crime and fraud. Many business organisations and IT experts were instead pinning their hopes on the proposals put forward by ACPO and the Metropolitan Police Service for the PCeU and, despite delays on funding, those proposals finally came to fruition at the beginning of October. The new unit will receive ￡3.5m of Government funding and ￡3.9m from the Met over three years, and will be based within the Met, under the leadership of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jane Williams of the Serious Crime Directorate. It will be a national resource working alongside the National Fraud Reporting Centre and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to support the development of the police response to online crime across the country. But its work will not overlap with the existing remit of SOCA's e-crime unit, or the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. DAC Williams, who became the ACPO lead on e-crime in April this year, said the unit would become a 'centre of excellence' for combating cyber criminals. "We have worked closely with the Home Office, City of London Police and SOCA to address e-crime issues and bring this unit to fruition," she added. "Electronic crime is a growing phenomenon of the 21st Century and has the potential to affect us all. This unit will provide a law enforcement solution and work towards limiting the impact of this crime on society." From next spring the PCeU will co-ordinate law enforcement of all online offences and lead national investigations into the most serious cyber-crime. It will also train officers in local forces in dealing with high-tech crimes, and it will work with the National Policing Improvement Agency to identify how e-crime reports made to local forces are handled. But it will not centrally collate all reports of e-crime from the 44 forces of England and Wales, including the BTP. Other key aims for the PCeU include: · the intelligence-led disruption of e-crime, · analysing and developing intelligence on computer crime to produce actionable operational products, in collaboration with other agencies, · developing a network of police, government and industry partners on e-crime, · the provision of education and preventative advice about e-crime to industry and the public, · promoting standards for training, procedure and response to e-crime, and · investigating serious e-crime incidents that fall within the Case Acceptance Criteria. So has the launch of the new unit satisfied the concerns voiced by so many? Not quite. Within days of the launch of the PCeU, experts were already querying the level of funding for the unit. David Roberts, chief executive of the Corporate IT Forum (Tif), said: "￡7m over three years seems a very small sum for a very large problem. We doubt whether it will be enough to tackle an issue that the Home Office itself calls a global menace." A survey by Tif - published earlier this month - of more than 50 of the UK's main IT users found that 68 per cent of chief security officers spend up to 40 per cent of their total security budget on tackling e-crime. Yet despite that level of cyber-crime, businesses were described as "so disillusioned" by the lack of support from the police that only four per cent of companies said they always report e-crime attacks, with the majority, 57 per cent, saying they "didn't feel the crimes would be investigated properly". Politicians have added their voices to the concerns about Internet crime, calling for more money to fund the PCeU. In a recent Parliamentary debate on Internet fraud, Conservative MP Nigel Evans said that the ￡7m "may not be enough and the Government may need to look at that again." S hadow crime reduction minister, James Brokenshire said that while he welcomed the launch of the PCeU, "we should be under no allusions that the Police Central e-Crime Unit is a panacea. There is the question over the resources it will have and the abilities it will have. "E-crime is the most rapidly expanding form of crime in this country. If this government does not take e-crime seriously it reinforces in the mind of the criminal that this country is a soft touch." Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake added: "There are concerns about whether ￡7m put into the e-crime unit will be sufficient and whether it will be sufficiently resourced to do the job in hand." However, Home Officer Minister Alan Campbell claims that criticism over the PCeU's funding is misguided, as the unit will be supported by other bodies under the ￡29m National Fraud Programme, which includes the National Fraud Strategic Authority (NFSA) and the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC). "This is not the only unit seeking to tackle online fraud. That figure is not the end of the story," added Campbell. The British Banking Association, and the UK Payments Association, APACS, have also welcomed the new unit; although neither would comment on its funding, both have said that any initiative to tackle online fraud was a "good idea". So while there is consensus among all parties - police, business, government and IT experts - that the growth of e-crime represents a huge threat to both the individual and the economy, the jury is still out on whether the current approach to tackling online crime is the right one, or has the right funding. What is clear is that much will depend on how effective the wider National Fraud Programme is, and how strong the links are between forces and businesses at a local level. While only four per cent of companies are reporting every e-crime attack, the impact of policing on cyber crime will inevitably be limited. So all eyes will be on the PCeU next spring to see how it can increase the level of confidence among businesses and IT experts in its ability to police Internet crime.