Police and academia unite to tackle online crime

Digital crime experts at Leeds Beckett University are working in partnership with West Yorkshire Police to develop new ways of fighting cyber-crime.

Reporting directly to the Home Office, and supported by the College of Policing and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the project could ultimately help to transform the way digital crime is policed across the country.

The £640,000 project funded by the Police Knowledge Fund, is just one of those being undertaken by the C​ybercrime and Security Innovation Centre (CSI Centre) at Leeds Beckett University launches today (06 April).

‘Cyber-enabled’ crimes are traditional crimes that can be increased in scale, or reach by the use of computers, networks or other forms of communications technology.

While overall crime rates fall, as we increasingly live our lives online cyber-enabled crime continues to increase, which is why tackling it is a key priority for the Home Office.

Ranging from online harassment to identity theft and fraud, across the country, recent research from the Home Office* suggests that up to around 5.1 million people – over 8% of UK population – are the victims of cyber-enabled crime every year. It is likely that the true figure is much higher.

As part of an exciting 18-month project, academics from Leeds Beckett University are working closely with West Yorkshire Police (WYP) to help train and develop a modern police force capable of taking the fight online.

The innovative partnership will offer researchers unparalleled access to the inner-workings of WYP as part of its commitment to developing a police force that is as at home online as on the beat.

The objective is to identify the knowledge gaps in digital investigations. The results will be shared with the Home Office, which, with the support of the College of Policing, is committed to helping police forces across the country to modernise.

The success of the collaboration lies in skills-sharing, as Dr Z. Cliffe Schreuders, Senior Lecturer in Computer Security at Leeds Beckett and academic lead on the project, explains:

“Cyber-enabled crime is a rapidly emerging and ever-evolving threat. As technology changes and improves, so do the criminals – which is why the work we’re doing with WYP is ambitious and challenging.

“Our role is to work with West Yorkshire Police, helping to identify areas where they are strong and where they can be improved. We have collaborated with all levels of WYP in the last six months to identify potential areas for improvement and the challenge now is to design and evaluate alternative solutions – to bring about improvements.

“A key part of this will be in identifying research projects the police can undertake in collaboration with us, to help improve the way they deal with cyber-enabled crime.

“We are confident that the work we are doing will help to ensure that police forces across the country are able to fight cyber-crime now, and in the future.”

Detective Inspector Vanessa Smith of West Yorkshire Police is leading the partnership on behalf of the police. She describes how the police are thriving in this new collaboration.

“We value the work with Leeds Beckett University and other partners in the project. This is a significant investment of time by WYP to ensure that we are the forefront of cyber-investigation.

“The 18 month project will see us work and collaborate to identify the knowledge gaps in digital policing. We will then work together to tackle these, sharing our learning with the Home Office.

“At the heart of the project is our desire to protect those who are vulnerable to becoming victims of crime and ensuring that they are safe online – not only the residents of West Yorkshire, but the whole UK population.”

The launch of the C​ybercrime and Security Innovation Centre (CSI Centre) was held on 06 April at Leeds Beckett University Campus.

The launch event will see talks from Dr Z. Cliffe Schreuders, Vanessa Smith and Giles Herdale, Head of Digital Intelligence & Investigation Strategy, Police Service who will discuss “Cybercrime and the National Challenge for Policing”.

The centre will also be the base for an £80,000 project which will see it collaborate with the University of Birmingham on a new and exciting security education research and development project to train the next generation of “ethical hackers”.

Students will benefit from the creation of a new digital environment for them to test their hacking skills. This digital environment more closely resembles the real world, testing each student in a randomly generated set of scenarios. It is hoped that this new approach to security challenges could transform the way digital security is taught across the world.

Dr Schreuders adds:

“The uniqueness of our approach is that our hacking challenges will be randomised. That is, every student gets a unique set of challenges in a unique virtual machine.”