Police Scotland and forces across the UK should recruit a network of volunteers to take on the growing threat from sophisticated cyber criminals, it has been claimed.
Independent think-tank Reform said 12,000 IT experts are needed to help bolster the police response to cyber crime, which is said to account for around half of all recorded offences.
Reform said new technology such as body-worn cameras would help “transform” policing and help reduce the burden on the frontline.
According to the think-tank, UK police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year.
It estimated that up to 2,500 people in the UK use the most popular “dark web” server for illegal purposes – including revenge pornography and child sex abuse – each day.Reform said only 40 of 13,500 volunteers working for police forces in the UK are cyber experts.
It highlighted the example of Estonia, where 1 per cent of IT professionals are employed as on-demand volunteers.
The report states: “Other countries have significantly larger volunteer bodies. Estonia has created a cyber unit within its reserve force.
“Its remit is to prevent and respond to serious cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, allowing forces and national bodies to call on members to provide information and help defend individuals, businesses, local areas and the entire country.
“Estonia’s reserve force has an estimated 1 per cent of the country’s IT experts, with just three full-time employees. This would translate to 11,831 volunteers in the UK. Calling on cyber experts in an ad hoc fashion – to respond to demand or be part of discrete projects – would tap into the civic spirit of UK citizens.”
Alexander Hitchcock, the report’s co-author, said: “As people live more of their lives online, they need confidence that the police will help them do this securely.
“Bobbies urgently need the technology, skills and confidence to patrol an online beat.”
Earlier this year, Police Scotland unveiled plans to create a “special constabulary” of private sector computer specialists who could be called on to help defeat cyber crime.
The national force said it wanted a “cadre of experts” to help bolster its reaction to ransomware attacks, such as the one that hit the NHS in May.
But Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation union, criticised the plan, saying it raised questions about how vetting would be carried out.