On 1 September 2014, the National Crime Agency (NCA) announced the launch of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT), an expert international taskforce set up to tackle online crime.  The aim of the J-CAT is to co-ordinate international investigations and work to take action against cybercrime threats and cybercrime networks.

The announcement happened to coincide with the widely reported news that intimate photographs of a number of high profile female celebrities had been leaked onto the Internet, having been stolen from their Apple iCloud accounts by hackers. The incident has highlighted the risks attached to use of the internet, and has significantly raised the profile of cybercrimes such as hacking and theft of personal information.  The FBI is currently investigating the attack.

It also follows a rather less sensational report a few days earlier that hackers infiltrated the US financial system in mid-August, stealing data from JP Morgan and one other bank.  A spokesperson for JP Morgan commented to the press "companies of our size unfortunately experience cyberattacks nearly every day.”

These two stories are just a drop in an ocean of reports about such attacks, affecting corporates, governments and individuals across the globe.  The offences committed using “cyber” methods can range from fraud and intellectual property theft, to breaches of data security and identity theft, to offences against children through the sharing of illegal images.  Further, new offences have arisen as a result of the use of technology, such as hacking, and stealing or altering electronic data.  These offences are criminalized under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Cybercrime is also practically unlimited in its reach – cyber criminals can operate from anywhere in the world, and across international boundaries.  This raises significant jurisdictional issues for those seeking to investigate and prosecute such crime, hence the importance of a coordinated international approach.

The threat from Cybercrime has been recognized for a long time, and various units have been responsible for the policing of such offences in the past.  However the J-CAT appears to represent a new level of international co-ordination, being a joint venture between the NCA, Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (known as EC3), the EU Cybercrime Taskforce and the US FBI.  The unit plans to conduct investigations into cybercrime threats, collect data on those threats to obtain actionable intelligence and propose targets for investigation, with the aim of increasing the number of arrests for such offences.  The J-CAT will be piloted for six months.

According to Europol’s website, the J-CAT will cover “all relevant areas”, including, malware coding (software used to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems), banking Trojans (which aim to steal users’ banking passwords and data), botnets (which allow another user to control and direct the operation of the target computer), online fraud and “similar top-end crimes”.

With such a large remit, it will be crucial for sufficient resources to be assigned to the operation from the outset.  It is also questionable whether a pilot of just six months will allow sufficient time to make any sensible assessment of the effectiveness of the unit.  It is to be hoped that the initiative is given further time to prove its worth if necessary.