Question & Answer: Len Hynds, National Hi-Tech Crime Unit
Detective chief superintendent Len Hynds has been head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) since its inception as part of the National Crime Squad in April 2001.
The unit has expanded to deal with organised crime and individual hackers at home and abroad, and has set up the first formal links with industry to increase the effectiveness of crime prevention.
Two years on, what have you learnt about the scale of high-tech crime in the UK?
It's been a vertical learning curve and we needed to assess the scale of the problem before taking action.
Once that was complete we split our efforts between these key areas: organised crime, hacking and virus writing, and Class A drugs. Recently we've also started tracking data on a fifth area, identity fraud.
What kinds of people make up the unit?
We're not trying to be experts in all kinds of IT, nobody can be. There are two main skills sets: forensic computing and network investigation.
The first group are reactive - they retrieve evidence that can be admissible in court.
Network investigators understand network protocols and can monitor for indicators of criminal activity. They also know who to speak to in the industry to find out more.
Is this all based in the London headquarters or is much work done in the regions?
We work all over the country, although there are big variations in the levels of expertise we're finding. Part of our brief is to build up units in local forces and, while some already have well organised teams for reporting and solving high-tech crime, in some areas there really is nothing.
In December the unit launched the Confidentiality Charter for businesses. How effective has that been at encouraging companies to report criminal activity? So far the results are very encouraging. We're currently involved in four long-term investigations using the framework provided in the charter and it seems to be holding up well.
We're getting more enquires and now that the City has got the message we'll be rolling it out to other sectors.
Internet service providers are certainly a target but so too are the petrochemical and transport sectors. In the latter we work closely with the National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre, as it also comes under their remit.
Are hackers the main problem nowadays or are there new threats?
Hardcore hacking activity is pretty stable^; there's no big rise there. Script kiddies using automated tools are growing rapidly, however, and although they aren't usually a problem there are exceptions.
Meanwhile we've been putting a lot of time and money into investigating groups organising paedophile sites, like Operation Ore, and this has put budgets under a lot of pressure.
What about the bigger picture? Isn't most cyber-crime international?
A lot of it is, and we meet and exchange information with forces around the world. We've exchanged staff with forces in the Far East and eastern Europe to counter the particularly high levels of high-tech crime in these countries.
We were also involved in the set-up of the Australian high-tech crime unit and they used our structure as a model, as did the South Africans.
Working internationally pays real dividends in investigations and we've already got invitations to go back.
Do you have the legal framework to do the job? You have been consulting with the government on forthcoming crime legislation.
We are, but generally we're happy with the state of affairs at the moment.
Sentencing may need some strengthening, and the status of denial of service attacks is still a little unclear, but until we've got a good spread of case law established we shouldn't consider massive changes.
You were hired on a three-year contract. How long do you envisage staying with the force?
I'd like to stay for the foreseeable future. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity^; setting up a unit like this gives you a totally blank canvas to work on.
The people are keen and committed, the work is fascinating and this really is the future of policing.
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