By Rhys Blakely and Sean O'Neill
December 4, 2007
Staff cuts at the government agency that tackles cybercrime will leave
British businesses vulnerable to attack from criminals and industrial
espionage, experts say.
It has emerged that the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), formed
last year, will have to shed up to 400 staff when the Home Office
announces its policing budget this week.
The Government is also being criticised for last years merging of the
National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), the police division formed in 2001
to deal with cybercrime, with Soca.
The move, which experts say lessened Britains defences, went ahead
despite evidence that web-based threats to companies were escalting.
Research released yesterday by Finjan, a web security company,
highlighted an increased volume of cyber attacks on British companies
from China. In particular, Finjan investigated an attack that used
zero-day exploits - malicious software for which there are no security
patches - that was designed to steal confidential information. It said
that it had traced one of the sources of the attacks to a website that
belongs to a Chinese government office. On Saturday, The Times disclosed
that the Director-General of MI5 had written to businessmen with a
warning that they were being attacked by Chinese cyberspies.
Soca was hailed as Britains answer to the FBI when it was launched last
year by Tony Blair. However, it is expected to lose between 200 and 400
of its 4,400 staff.
Ian Brown, of Oxford University, a cyber-espionage expert, said that
British businesses were more vulnerable than they need to be because of
the merger and planned job cuts. It is apparent now to many people that
the merger . . . was a mistake, he said.
Business figures claim that the merged group is excessively secretive
and have criticised it for not producing results. Soca took over the
functions of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal
Intelligence Service and NHTCU, as well as much of the work carried out
by HM Customs law enforcement division. Its priority areas are drugs and
fraud, but it is understood that the Home Office wants the agency to
concentrate more on human-trafficking. Critics say that leaves
cybercrime and web-based industrial espionage too far down the agenda.
The Metropolitan Police wants to establish a new cybercrime unit.
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