Israel police unable to handle growing cybercrime, says state watchdog

State Comptroller criticizes police cybercrime units as lacking manpower, funding and capabilities and being improperly decentralized.

Police cyber crime unit (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Police cyber crime unit
Israel Police are unable to properly handle complex cyber crimes due to funding and structural deficiencies, according to the State Comptroller report released on Tuesday.
The report, which examined the police’s handling of sophisticated cyber crime from March to August 2016, criticized the police cyber crime units of lacking manpower, funding and capabilities and of improper decentralization.
“At the time of the audit, the national unit for cyber crime had only about one-third of the manpower required to deal with the issue according to conclusions and recommendations formulated by the police over the past 10 years,” the report said, adding that “At the end of the audit, the police were not prepared to deal with cyber crime offenses with technological complexity.”
According to the report, the police cyber crime units are underfunded and illequipped, leading to a situation where police investigators are forced to pay hundreds of shekels out of pocket for necessary equipment.
The report said that while instances of cyber crime almost doubled between 2013-2015, the NIS 6-million budget allotted to cyber crime was reduced by a third in 2016.
NIS 3.3m. went to employing civilian personnel, previous commitments from 2015 and travel expenses, leaving only NIS 2.7 million for the entire police cyber crime apparatus in 2016. According to the report, such an amount is insufficient to update technology to meet the demands of the rapidly changing cyber crime environment.
Moreover, wage gaps between cyber crime investigators and similar positions in the private sector “reach thousands of shekels and even more per month,” the report said, noting that some police investigators could garner more than double their salary of NIS 13,250 in the private sector. As a result, police have difficulty recruiting and retaining experts in the cyber crime field.
Police along with the Finance Ministry formulated a plan to significantly increase wages of experts in September 2015. However, as of January 2017, no final agreement had been reached, the report said.
The national cyber crimes unit operates under the elite investigative unit Lahav 433, while each police district in Israel also has cyber crime investigators. Citing the Israeli Census Bureau of Statistics, the report said that 230,000 Israelis fell victim to cyber crime in 2015, 5,089 of which were reported to police. That number, however, is likely higher, the report said, as many cases are not reported.
Police were also taken to task for a “decentralized command structure,” where the national cyber unit and district cyber units “operated independently of one another without being updated on their technological capabilities or on how to deal with cyber crime cases.”
Insufficient communication and work process between cyber crime units leads to damage and loss of digital evidence, the report said. In addition, the report found that there are instances where parallel investigations are conducted on the same case without coordination between investigating units.
District police cyber crime units also spend the majority of their time providing technical assistance to other investigations by helping retrieve evidence from computers and other devices instead of dealing with cases of complex cyber crime, according to the report.
In response to the report, police said they had adopted the findings, but added that the report addressed old plans that were no longer relevant because of a reexamination of police efforts by Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich.
Police also said they had decided to establish cyber headquarters as a “base of strengthening and empowering” the cyber division.
“It should be emphasized that the future plans, which have wide and complex implications, will be implemented gradually, taking into consideration all internal and external police factors included in the processes,” police said.