Cyber-detectives could get new powers to infiltrate hacking and scamming gangs

·2 min read
Priti Patel - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Priti Patel - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Cyber-detectives could get new powers to infiltrate hacking and scamming gangs to enable government security experts to close them down, under a review ordered by Priti Patel.

The Home Secretary announced on Tuesday that there will be a review of computer misuse laws that could give private investigators and police new powers – and increase jail sentences for the criminals.

Investigators working for major companies and victims say current laws make it illegal for them to infiltrate hackers’ networks and then relay information back to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to take action against the scammers and criminals.

In a speech to the Cyber UK Conference, Ms Patel said she wanted to crack down on the use of networked cameras to spy on and harass individuals, and scammers who used fake websites to sell compromised details, fuelling further cybercrimes and fraud.

She also promised new measures to combat ransomware – where hackers lock systems and demand payment to restore the tech.

She told the delegates that cybercrime was not victimless and increasing. In the year to Sept 2020 there were 1.7 million cyberattacks on adults in England and Wales.

Ms Patel said the beefed up laws could also help tackle horrific levels of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. “It is critical that the Government has all the right levers available to ensure that those who commit criminal acts in cyberspace are effectively investigated by law enforcement, and prosecuted by our criminal justice system,” she said.

“Including those perpetrating the most heinous and appalling crimes against children or those committing serious fraud.”

The security industry says the current Act prevents investigators scanning or infiltrating the networks of scammers and hackers, making it illegal to do so without the express permission of the operators.

Research conducted by the CyberUp Campaign and techUK has found that 80 per cent of cybersecurity professionals worry about breaking the law in the process of defending against cyberattacks.

They want the right to infiltrate suspected hacks and scammers’ systems overseen by a code of conduct and supervisory body. It is thought the NCSC supports such reform.

A Home Office source said nothing had been ruled out in the review: “If the police say they need more powers, we will look at that. If longer sentences are needed, we will look at that. If new tech capabilities are needed, we will look at that. Everything is on the table.”