Investigation: ‘Significant’ cybercrime on rise in Scotland

Levels of cybercrime in Scotland is soaring. Picture: Contributed
Levels of cybercrime in Scotland is soaring. Picture: Contributed
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Cybercrime is witnessing “significant” growth in Scotland and emerging as the UK’s rising and most prevalent crime, an investigation has revealed.

Soaring levels of criminal activity conducted online or through the hacking of networks has been reported with some warning it is reaching epidemic levels.

One in five of all crimes now estimated to be cyber according to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics while Action Fraud says around 70 per cent of fraud is now cyber-enabled.

The investigation also shows police forces in England and Wales saw an 87 per cent rise in cybercrime investigated in the past year alone, with around 85 per cent going unsolved.

In Scotland, the situation is less clear.

Both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland say they were working on systems to classify cybercrimes, but official figures are not available.

However, those on Scotland’s front line say the tidal wave of cybercrime flooding the UK is almost certainly being felt north of the Border.

Detective Inspector Eamonn Keane from Police Scotland’s cybercrime unit said: “Cybercrime has witnessed significant growth.

“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.

“The UK is a popular destination for cyber criminal activity, and Scotland is a part of the UK which has a strong economy, so it is a target for digitalised cyber activity.”

Paddy Tomkins, chairman of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre said: “The Scottish Government and Police Scotland are working very hard on classifying these crimes figures, but it’s fair to say that what’s going on nationally will be proportionately happening in Scotland.

“It’s a complex issue, but I hope it is a high priority to get these figures so we can better understand the size and the scale of the problem and its effect on businesses and individuals.

“Cybercrime is a threat that has come about really very quickly and it changes on a daily basis, so we need to be able to keep up with that so we can also adapt and change.”

Malware proliferation, ransomware, social engineering, phishing and online fraud are the most prevalent cybercrimes in the country.

But increasingly, cyber is infiltrating other areas, including child exploitation, human trafficking, extortion, online abuse and fraud.

DI Keane warned cyber’s multi-jurisdictional nature was causing problems for policing “which is playing catch-up to cybercrime’s ever-evolving status”.

He added: “It’s a faceless crime and on a global scale; people don’t have to step foot in the country to commit a cybercrime here.

“Another big problem has always been the lack of reporting. Under-reporting is a difficulty facing all forces, so we don’t know what cyber is costing us.”

John Foley, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said: “We recognise that cyber-enabled crime is likely to be under reported – whether because some of these activities are not as yet recognised by the public as crimes or because those targeted by fraud or ransomware attacks may be less willing to come forward.

“So there is more work to do across law enforcement to capture a true picture of this criminality. However, we know cyber crime is a growing and evolving worldwide. Police Scotland and the SPA recently launched Policing 2026, a 10-year strategy for policing in Scotland. In this, a clear commitment was given to transform Police Scotland’s cyber capability and in doing so equip and train our workforce to effectively respond to emerging cyber related crimes.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is live to the threat of cybercrime, which is growing at an unprecedented rate.

“The anonymous and borderless nature of cyber-attacks, however, mean they are difficult to detect and prosecute, and it is widely acknowledged that cybercrime is under-reported.

“Estimates from the Scottish Business Resilience Centre put the cost to the Scottish economy of both cybercrime and fraud at £394 million in 2015-16.

“We are currently working with Police Scotland, HMICS and others to improve the evidence base on cybercrime and its impacts in Scotland.

“This includes working with Police Scotland to improve the accuracy of recording and to increase reporting of cybercrimes.”

Reporting team: Aasma Day, Cahal Milmo, Don Mort, Chris Burn, Ruby Kitchen, Paul Lynch, Oli Poole, Gavin Ledwith, Ben Fishwick, Philip Bradfield and Deborah Punshon