Gardaí hiring civilian 'digital forensic investigators' in cyber-crime expansion

Two pilot regional cyber-crime units have been operating in Ballincollig, Co Cork and New Ross, Co Wexford.
Gardaí hiring civilian 'digital forensic investigators' in cyber-crime expansion

Cyber-crime investigations have been under-resourced in the past. File picture.

Gardaí are hiring civilian “digital forensic investigators” in a major expansion of its cyber-crime capabilities.

Garda HQ said the “unprecedented” move is part of an investment in both the National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) and the rollout of regional cyber crime units.

And there is a separate recruitment process underway for the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB), which has been heavily understaffed for years.

Last September, the Irish Examiner reported that Garda HQ has been waiting since March 2019 for funding approval to set up regional cyber-crime units or “hubs”.

In October 2019, officers in GNCCB said the bureau had 32 members, but that Garda Commissioner Drew Harris had approved a plan to bring the number to 120 over the next two years, which would also include staffing new divisional cyber units.

Plans to boost the GNCCB and set up regional cyber-crime units were first detailed in the Garda’s Modernisation and Renewal Programme, launched in June 2016, which envisaged regional units being in place by the end of 2017.

The report of the Future of Policing in Ireland Commission, published in September 2018, said the cyber-crime and security capacity and expertise of the Garda needed to be “substantially expanded as a matter of urgency”.

Two pilot regional cyber-crime units have been operating in Ballincollig, Co Cork and New Ross, Co Wexford.

The forensic examination of child abuse imagery is by far the biggest request for assistance to the bureau from local gardaí, followed by online fraud, child exploitation/grooming, and sexual assault/rape.

The bureau also assists in examining devices for investigations into murders, gangland activity and terrorism.

Dogged with shortages

Cyber-crime policing has been dogged with staff and resource shortages for years, leading to ongoing criticism in the courts regarding delays in examining devices for online child abuse.

In response to queries from the Irish Examiner Garda HQ confirmed that it had now received approval for its GNCCB funding request.

“Sanction has been approved for an expanded Cyber Crime Bureau with the necessary resources, to include additional staff, accommodation and Information & Communications Technology (ICT),” it said.

“The expansion of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau is a listed priority project under the APSFF (A Policing Service for the Future) programme and with the necessary investment in technology and resources will lead to an enhanced response to cybercrime.” 

The statement said: “Recruitment internally in An Garda Síochána has commenced. An external competition will result in the unprecedented introduction of Garda Staff [civilian] as Digital Forensic Investigators.” 

It added: “This will not alone see the expansion of Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau and enhance its capability to undertake cybercrime investigations but also the establishment of a number of Cyber Crime Hubs throughout the state by the end of 2020.” 

It is expected the next regional units will be based in Mullingar and Galway.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau is also set for a long-awaited boost to its resources, after a number of efforts to increase staffing levels.

The fraud bureau, which has in the region of 50 detectives, has sought in business cases a doubling of its resources, to around 100 investigators.

Garda HQ said: “Recruitment internally in An Garda Síochána has commenced for additional resources for GNECB.” 

It comes at a time when Commissioner Harris has recently said that an increase in a range of frauds was a feature of organised criminal activity in 2020.

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