Cyber crime prosecutions fell last year because police are under-resourced, top law firm says

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The number of prosecutions for cyber crime fell in the UK last year as under-resourced police struggled to tackle the growing security threat, according to a leading law firm.

Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) said there were only 57 cyber crime prosecutions in 2016, down from 61 in 2015. It’s the first time prosecutions have fallen this decade and comes despite the UK experiencing 1.9 million computer misuse crimes in 2016, RPC said. 

Use of encryption and proxy servers now make it “enormously challenging” for the police to track the perpetrators, or to locate where they are operating from. 

Many cyber criminals active in the UK are based overseas, often in jurisdictions such as Russia or the Baltic states, RPC said. Therefore, even if individuals were identified, it would be virtually impossible for police in the UK to secure prosecutions against them.

The UK only has around 250 specialist cyber crime police officers and this lack of resources has exacerbated the problem, the law firm said. 

This situation makes it more important that businesses have in place “robust and comprehensive” cyber insurance policies, to mitigate the costs of a cyber attack, which could result in the loss of critical data, customer details or other sensitive material.

Recent Government research found that nearly half of all UK businesses suffered a cyber breach or attack in 2016, with costs estimated to be tens of billions of pounds.

Those costs could be set to spiral further when new data protection rules come into force in less than a year’s time. These will mean businesses face increased fines for data security breaches.

Richard Breavington, a partner at RPC, said: “Given the resources they have to work with, it’s unreasonable to expect the police in the UK to be able to track down cyber criminals for whom covering their tracks electronically is often trivially easy.

“Businesses operating without insurance coverage against potential cyber risks are playing with fire – the consequences can be severe for those who fall victim to cyber criminals.”

Neil Hare-Brown, chief of STORM Guidance, a cyber risk advisor, said cyber criminals “are able to target UK victims with relative impunity”.