New ways of fighting cyber crime developed by Leeds Beckett and West Yorkshire Police (25 May 2017)

New ways of fighting cyber crime and supporting digital investigations have been developed by Leeds Beckett University in collaboration with West Yorkshire Police.

Supported by the Home Office, the College of Policing, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England's Police Knowledge Fund, the project aims to help transform the way digital crime is policed across the country.

The outcomes of the 18-month, £640,000, project will be shared with a police and academic audience at an event at Leeds Beckett University on Thursday 25 May. The academic lead of the project is Dr Z. Cliffe Schreuders within Leeds Beckett's Cybercrime and Security Innovation Centre (CSI).

Dr Schreuders explained: "Cyber-enabled crime is a rapidly emerging and ever-evolving threat. As technology changes and improves, so do the criminals - which is why the work we're doing with West Yorkshire Police is ambitious and challenging.

"We worked with all levels of West Yorkshire Police to identify potential areas for improvement, and subsequently we have completed collaborative research projects, with research outputs that directly benefit the police force's ability to fight cybercrime and improve digital investigations: including new knowledge, software, and improvements in investigative techniques."

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, said: "This project is a further step forward in stopping those people that think they can commit crime with impunity from behind a computer.

"Tackling cybercrime is a key focus for me, West Yorkshire Police and our partners: you only need to look at the effect of the recent attacks on NHS to know how serious the consequences can be.

"Partnership working and effectively using our resources are crucial in fighting online crime. Leeds Beckett University, along with West Yorkshire Police and other partners, have done some fantastic work here and I am looking forward to seeing where we can now take these outputs."

The project aimed to improve and incorporate an evidence-based approach into the policing of digital forensics and cybercrime investigations. An extensive needs assessment of UK policing and cybercrime and digital evidence was conducted to understand the current situation, and to identify needs across the force.

Cyber investigation officers took part in a research training programme, collaborating directly with the Leeds Beckett team, conducting innovative research projects, focusing on weaknesses in police processes and resulting in new evidence-based procedures, new capabilities such as software and algorithms, and actionable intelligence.

The key outputs of the project, which will be discussed at the showcase event, include:

  • A large-scale assessment of the challenges and needs within the police force for tackling cybercrime. This information has informed the research projects and collaboration, and is being used to inform West Yorkshire Police policy and practice. 
  • An assessment of methods of providing cyber training to police forces, which identifies appropriate training methods, and will help to inform the force training school on the most effective approaches. 
  • Image linkage technology for matching digital photos to source camera fingerprints. This includes software to extract and analyse the uniquely identifying features of camera devices, providing police with the ability and procedure to extract fingerprints from devices, to trace suspects by matching images to the camera that took each photo. 
  • Advanced digital forensics by querying linked datasets across multiple sources and cases. This provides increased capabilities by enabling cross-device analysis, from multiple data sources, and historical analysis across devices and cases. 
  • Automated grooming detection for expediated chat log analysis. Software that provides digital forensics units with the ability to scan and categorise large volumes of chat for content related to grooming, with the potential to be included in triage processes. 
  • A mobile app to support frontline officers in decision support and the capture of evidence, with in-app video training, to reduce the amount of irrelevant exhibits seized by officers, and to provide structured guidance for preservation of digital evidence. 
  • An analysis of the characteristics of victims of cybercrime, to explore how demographics relate to falling victim to types of crime. Results identify the demographic characteristics of cybercrime victims in West Yorkshire, both at an individual level (such as age, sex, and occupation) and at area level. This knowledge will be used to enable police to take a proactive approach to identify potential vulnerable victims. 
  • Recommendations around seizing and preserving cloud-based evidence. 
  • An evaluation of the Digital Media Investigators (DMIs) police role, including identification of gaps in the training, support and resources currently provided.

Detective Chief Inspector Vanessa Smith of the West Yorkshire Police Cybercrime Unit and the Regional Cybercrime Unit (Yorkshire and the Humber), said: "Cybercrime is very topical at the moment - the need for law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to tackle the crime is more important than ever. It isn't just about the well-publicised ransomware attacks on large organisations but about other crimes too - for example stalking via social media.

"Almost everyone has access to a computer, laptop, mobile phone or tablet and is therefore potentially at risk - and so we are looking to mitigate and reduce that risk. That is why we applied for this funding to further develop our specialist capabilities. The money allowed us to work with Leeds Beckett University to develop the projects including the app for front line officers working closely with them to see what we could do to help them."

The College of Policing launched the £10m Police Knowledge Fund in 2015 to encourage collaboration between academia and police forces in order to increase evidence-based knowledge, skills and problem-solving approaches within policing.

Higher education institutions, in partnership with police forces and other agencies, were able to bid for a share of the Police Knowledge Fund to develop evidence-based approaches to problems faced by those on the frontline and to increase the flow of research in fighting crime.

© Copyright West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner 2017