Police forces across the UK and Wales are spending more time each year investigating cyber incidents and crimes related to social media platforms.
New research from the think tank Parliament Street has found a 14 percent increase in computer “hacking” in the past two financial years, with police forces in the UK and Wales launching 2,547 investigations into reports of cybercrime over the last two years.
Many of the police forces who responded to Parliament Street’s enquiries also provided police notes on the type of crime report and the investigation’s status.
Many of these can be identified as clear cybercrime incidents, such as a report from Norfolk and Suffolk that reads: “During hours of darkness in rural market town unknown person has instigated a virus in private business server which has encrypted personal data files which can only be accessed by the users by paying a ransom of 1087 Bitcoins.”
However, police forces are also required to commit resources to cyber incidents that stem from poor IT security practices, including where people are handing out their password to friends and family, only to discover at a later data that their accounts have seen some form of unauthorised access.
Social Media Hacks
When this type of incident is officially reported to police it then requires some form of investigation.
One case note from Leicester Police force stated: “Schoolchild gives her Instagram password out to friends, inappropriate messages are then sent from her account shortly after.” This incident was investigated with ‘no suspect identified’ submitted as a case note.
Another incident reported was a complainant saying offenders are setting up fake profiles on social media which are affecting their business in a negative way.
Throughout the police report’s crime notes is the phrase ‘evidential difficulties’; in these cases it is clear that some form of crime has occurred, but logging evidence to build a case is either not possible, extremely time consuming or simply the perpetrator is not in the UK at all.
Sheila Flavell, Chair of the Institute of Coding and COO of FDM Group commented in an emailed statement: “It’s clear that the tidal wave of cybercrime is draining the resources of police forces as well as businesses. Tackling this problem requires a concerted effort to recruit staff equipped with the latest cyber skills as well as extending education and training opportunities to existing employees.”
Strained Law Enforcement
The increasing numbers of reported cybercrimes and their subsequent investigations is putting pressure on already strained law enforcement departments.
A report in September from the National Audit Office found that the financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales is in question.
The report found that: “While no police force has failed financially, there are signs emerging that forces are finding it harder to deliver an effective service.”
The report also showed that time and resource constraints are affecting normal policing activity: “The time it took to charge an offence increased from 14 days for the year ending March 2016, to 18 days for the year ending March 2018.”
However it is not clear if the report published by the Parliament Street think tank is providing a clear picture for all of the UK and Wales in its findings.
The think tank put in freedom of information requests to all the police forces in the UK and Wales seeking details of reported hacking crimes.
Overall 14 police forces responded with varying levels of detail, yet there are 43 police forces in the UK and Wales. From the sampling of police notes that were obtained it is clear that officers are dealing with more and more incidents of computer misuse relating to social media platforms; these may not always constitute what is typically thought of as hacking.