INVESTIGATION: Hundreds of cyber crimes are being committed in Hampshire – as police set up new crack team

Cyber crime is a growing menace
Cyber crime is a growing menace
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HUNDREDS of cyber crimes are being committed against people every year in this county as police race to get ahead of tech-savvy criminals.

The News and Johnston Press Investigations today launch Cyber crime: the hidden threat to us all and can reveal Hampshire police is poised to launch a new crack team of investigators.

Assistant chief constable Ben Snuggs

Assistant chief constable Ben Snuggs

Set to bolster an existing team already working to prevent cyber crimes and investigation units, the digital investigation team will focus solely on online criminals.

The News found the force has investigated 1,537 cyber-flagged crimes in the last three financial years.

Sex offences, theft, violent assaults and public order incidents account for swathes of the crimes.

Figures show 124 cyber crimes are still under investigation, with 24 incidents having no suspect identified – 28 people have been charged.

The News and its sister titles found 39,339 offences reported to 30 out of the 45 police forces in the UK in the last 12 months represent only a fraction of the true number of offences being committed.

And 85 per cent of reported online crimes are going unsolved. These figures exclude Hampshire as the force did not provide the data.

Nationally, the number of cyber offences investigated by police has risen by nearly 90 per cent in the last year.

A former intelligence officer at GCHQ, which leads Britain’s cyber defence capabilities, told JP Investigations the UK and other developed countries are ‘on the losing end of an arms race’.

Organised crime groups and hostile states are deploying powerful online tools to net million of pounds a day and disrupt daily life with attacks such as the ransomware assault called WannaCry which earlier this year disrupted the NHS.

Assistant chief constable Ben Snuggs, Hampshire’s force lead for cyber crime, said: ‘We’re always trying to get people to report it so we genuinely know what the picture of cyber crime is.

‘Only then locally and nationally can we truly respond to it well.

‘It’s very much about mainstreaming this across the board, but equally about having a specialist response, as well as day-by-day response.

‘That is a real challenge, there is a lot of training and awareness. This environment is constantly changing, to do it and consistently do it, so that our investigators or call-takers understand that actually the threat has changed, migrated from that, to that to that, in the three-month period since we trained you last.’

There were 393 cyber crimes in 2014/15, 690 in 2015/16 and 454 the year afterwards.

Mr Snuggs said although the true picture of cyber crime is unknown, there is nothing to suggest Hampshire is targeted any more or less than the rest of the UK.

He said: ‘There is nothing to suggest that the dataset about the UK national position is any different to Hampshire. That is the best we can do.’

However, Labour Ports-mouth South MP Stephen Morgan says he is concerned about the ability of police to respond to cyber crime.

He said: ‘I am deeply concerned about the impact Tory cuts are having on the ability of police to respond to crime in our communities, including cyber offences.

‘At a time when our police forces are having to adapt to a hugely diverse array of new and sophisticated crimes, they need our support and resources, not to have their budgets slashed.

‘The effects of cyber crime can be devastating; we owe individuals and business owners in Portsmouth proper protection from what is clearly a rapidly increasing threat.’

* On Monday: how councils, the NHS and public bodies are under attack.