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Scotland seeing huge growth in cybercrime

A recent media investigation has revealed that a number of high-ranking police officers believe Scotland has become a key target for cyber criminals. Cybercrimes are those committed with a computer or using the internet. The most common types of cybercrime are ransomware, social engineering, phishing, malware and online fraud, however, Police Scotland says that cybercrime is expanding and has now reached areas including child exploitation, human trafficking and online abuse.

Eamonn Keane, a detective inspector in Police Scotland’s cybercrime unit said, “the ubiquitous use of modern technologies has witnessed that parallel rise in cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled crime. The cyber threat to Scotland is indicative of that local, national and international threat applicable to all regions in the UK.”

Mr Keane believes the evolution of cybercrime is a new threat. What makes this type of crime particularly dangerous and difficult to control is its scale – offenders do not need to be in the UK to commit crimes here. Further, as perpetrators are often disguised by computers and sophisticated techniques, this makes it difficult for enforcement agencies to identify and locate them.

These difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that there is a clear lack of reporting of these crimes. Indeed, businesses could be reluctant to report a breach to the police for fear of reputational damage. While individuals may not know who to contact, blame themselves for lack of security or assume the incident is not serious enough to report. Underreporting is a big problem facing authorities as it not only widens the gap between the police and the perpetrators, it also prevents them from knowing exactly how much this crime is costing the country.

Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, has no dedicated cybercrime statistics so it is not known how many cybercrimes were investigated in recent years. As the threat of cybercrime continues to grow at a fast rate in this country, as does the need for intelligent data and robust analysis. Meanwhile, Police forces in England and Wales have seen an almost 90% rise in the number of cybercrimes being investigated in the last 12 months, the large majority of which were not solved. Almost 40,000 crimes were reported to 30 police forces in England and Wales in 2016 – nearly double the number in the previous year.

The Computer Misuse Act 1990 is one of the main laws dealing with cybercrime and deals with unauthorised access to computer material (i.e. hacking) and intent to impair the operation of a computer (i.e. with a virus). The only other piece of relevant legislation is the Communications Act 2003. In 2016, just one person in Scotland was convicted under the 1990 Act, and almost 900 under the 2003 Act in 2015-16.

The more positive news is that Police Scotland and the Scottish Government are currently working on ways to classify cybercrimes and are working on ways to improve the reporting and investigation of these offences.

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