Organised crime's use of the internet has increased sharply, according to the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU).
Delegates from the police, industry and government attending the first e-crime congress in London this week heard that criminals were becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of modern technology and were hiring in skills from the technical community to perform specific tasks.
Detective chief superintendent Len Hynds, head of the NHTCU, said: "We now have reliable intelligence showing major drugs and arms traffickers using sophisticated and disciplined methods of communication using internet relay chat and ICQ protocols as well as encrypted emails.
"We are also seeing these groups using hacking skills to access and compromise IT systems, in order to secrete their illicit material on the servers of unsuspecting businesses."
DCS Hynds cited the case of an organised ring of child pornographers that had hidden a pay-to-view site on the servers of a legitimate company.
However, said Hynds, with a few minor exceptions, the existing legal framework is sufficient to give police the powers they need.
As for the threat of cyber-terrorism the news is better, but there is little room for complacency.
"There is no evidence as yet to terrorists using advanced technology," Bob Ainsworth MP, parliamentary under secretary of state for the Home Office told vnunet.com. "But it's not that it may happen but that it will happen."
Currently the four key focus areas of the NHTCU are extortion, drug trafficking (25 per cent of the unit's resources are targeted at tracking down the supply of Class A drugs), hackers or virus writers and paedophiles.
The NHTCU does not investigate all computer crime but acts as a centre of expertise for the UK's police forces.
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