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NHTCU disappears into new crime agency

Major overhaul of e-crime fighting.

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When you're hit by a virus, will SOCA want to know?

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has formally launched the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which will handle high-tech crime along with drugs trafficking, immigration crime, money laundering and identity fraud.

IT industry observers, meanwhile, said criticisms of the previous anti-cybercrime approach had not yet been addressed.

SOCA folds in the National High-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), formerly the main national UK force tackling cybercrime, along with the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and specialists from HM Revenue and Customs and the UK Immigration Service.

There is a worry that high-tech crime may be lost at SOCA amid a predominant focus on drugs trafficking and immigration crime, according to industry observers. The new body plans to spend 40 percent of its resources on stopping drug trafficking, 25 percent on immigration, 10 percent on individual and private sector fraud and 15 percent on other types of crime, with another 10 percent spent on assisting other law-enforcement agencies.

But anti-cybercrime efforts may also benefit from being included alongside other types of crime. "In some ways it makes sense, since it isn't really distinct from other types of crime," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant with Sophos.

The main problem under the NHTCU was the lack of a clear structure for the reporting of cybercrime, which means there are no reliable cybercrime statistics for the UK.

"A clear structure for how to report computer crimes has been missing all along. If you're hit by a virus, no one in authority wants to know," Cluley said. "They actually say, 'don't tell us, tell the antivirus companies'. With this reshuffling, there is a danger that companies may not be clear whom to report to."

Clarke said the new agency will be better able to tackle sophisticated crime than its predecessors, will "exploit high-tech 21st century technology and uncover the new wave of crime bosses".

It will have a staff of about 4,300, including 120 officers based in 40 countries; the NCIS had 1,200 staff, while the NCS had 1,330 detectives and 420 support staff. SOCA will have a budget of £400 million a year.

When the agency was announced in 2004, it was seen as a response to criticism over the bungling of investigations that required coordination between different agencies.

SOCA's chair is Sir Stephen Lander, former MI5 director general, while former NCS director-general Bill Hughes will stay on in the same role with SOCA.


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