Britain's most senior police officer has raised fears that home-grown organised gangs are waking up to the low risks and high rewards of cybercrime.
Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, issued the warning in a Sunday newspaper article highlighting the importance of specialist officers. Debate around policing in the run-up to the Comprehensive Spending Review has so far been dominated by calls to preserve bobbies on the beat.
"At the moment, British criminals would probably have to buy 'packages' of bogus identities or virus kits from foreign criminal organisations. But for how long?" he wrote.
Sir Paul's warning challenges the common view that large-scale cybercrime is generally associated with Eastern European gangs. Only last week, the Met's Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) charged 11 Estonians, Latvians and Ukranians with stealing millions of pounds using bank details harvested by the Zeus Trojan.
Yet "there are disturbing signs that 'traditional' British organised crime is waking up to the profits and uses of e-crime," Sir Paul wrote.
"PCeU regularly receives calls from other Met units informing them that criminal gangs are using cyber communication to plan their crimes and launder the proceeds."
Traditionally, drug gangs would commit robberies to pay debts when they lost a shipment to law enforcement, but Sir Paul suggested the relative ease of cyber attacks makes them increasingly attractive to British career criminals.
"There is a risk that cyber crime will become their main source of cash flow," he wrote.
The PCeU was set up in 2008 and serves as the national unit for investigating cybercrime. However, the Home Office recently cut its small budget by 14 per cent, ahead of the CSR, which is expected to bring further cuts of about 30 per cent across policing.
Sir Paul concluded with a call to protect PCeU and other specialist units.
"We must... ensure that, if British crime gangs take up e-crime as enthusiastically as we fear, we can match the skills at their disposal. We must have the expertise to stay ahead of the criminals.
"Uniform officers alone will not keep the streets safe – specialist detectives are just as crucial to ensuring we are all better protected."
His article for The Sunday Telegraph is here. ®