Officers in a specialist West Midlands cybercrime unit are working with universities to train a new generation of digital security experts – and to steer tech-savvy students away from the Dark Web.
The digital detectives have struck up partnerships with several higher and further education centres offering IT courses that include elements such as cyber security and ‘ethical hacking’.
It’s seen them deliver workshops for undergraduates in which they discuss the legal and moral boundaries around web activity, explain how detectives go undercover online to catch cyber crooks, and stress the consequences of turning to the Dark Web.
Steve Garner (pictured) is Principal Lecturer in Computer Science at Wolverhampton University, one of the centres working with the cybercrime team.
The university has around 1,200 undergraduates on degree courses such as Computer Games Development, Computer Science, IT management, and Cyber Security.
Steve said: “It’s widely recognised there’s a lack of cyber-security skills in computer science degrees on offer in the UK. It’s crucial that everyone involved in creating the digital economy, especially the technology underpinning it, understands the threats and vulnerabilities that need to be managed.
“The police cybercrime team is helping us embed cyber-security skills into our degree courses; officers are influencing the syllabuses on certain courses, including our recently amended Ethical Hacking module.
“Cracking passwords is one element studied by final year Computer Science students…it’s important for students to understand how this is done but clearly such studies come with a great deal of personal responsibility.
“But there can be a fine line between ‘dabbling’ online – in order to understand the threat of cybercrime – and criminality. The police inputs show what’s acceptable and what could land students in trouble, explain the exciting career opportunities they could explore…and how that could be ruined if they’re tempted to use their tech skills for criminal purposes.”
The cybercrime team is part of the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) including officers from West Midlands, Staffordshire, West Mercia and Warwickshire forces.
Sergeant Gary Sirrell leads the university partnership scheme.
He said: “There is evidence that some students on tech courses – ones where they may pick up a degree of knowledge on hacking – are using the skills to commit crime online.
“It could be to hack themselves – for financial gain, maliciously or even as a personal challenge – or to develop harmful malware to be sold on the Dark Web. We have investigated cases that have led us to identify students as cybercrime offenders.
“We use the workshops as an opportunity to highlight how they can use their skills positively – and could even train to work as a police cyber detective!”