The Police Central e-crime Unit is ratcheting up the pressure on criminals who hack into business IT systems, as it makes its first investigations.

Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, one of the heads of the new £7.4 million unit, called on businesses to report online crime to the PCeU, so that it can be tackled effectively, and patterns of criminality can be established in order to prevent future occurrences.

Businesses were willing to report on the cybercriminals, she told CIO UK sister title Computerworld UK in Westminster, even knowing that prosecutions could take place and the crime could become public knowledge.

“Industry is coming to us and reporting the issue,” she said. “Is it much surprise it’s happening? No. It shows they’re taking on the issue. They’re not saying it happens daily.”

In May, a range of business security chiefs said business was willing to report cybercrime, and wanted to see it tackled. But others have suggested they feared the reputational damage of the knowledge becoming public.

Speaking at a forum of politicians, industry IT chiefs and the media, McMurdie said the police needed “actionable intelligence”, which could only be acquired through businesses and the public sector consistently reporting the online crimes they are victims of.

“If you’re a victim of crime, you must report it. If you don't, it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t get tackled, and we don’t get the resources in the future to fight it,” she said. “We’re setting up industry groups in order to work closely with businesses."

The PCeU currently comprises 30 staff. Some £3.9 million funding comes from the Metropolitan Police, and £3.5 million from the government over three years. It tackles the theft of data and its subsequent fraudulent use, but does not fight crimes such as child abuse online, which is handled by a separate child protection unit.

Funding was eventually promised to the PCeU in September last year, after two years of campaigning by the police and industry following the National High Tech Crime Unit being absorbed into organised crime fighting agency Soca in 2006.

Nevertheless Alan Campbell MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state, sought to assure businesses that the government took the issue seriously. “We will continue to ensure our legislation tackles the changing threats,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the government, industry and the public to make sure the internet is a safe place.”

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