Warning over cyber crime victims amid police budget concerns
Thousands of cyber crime victims could face delays in police support as resources come under pressure, one expert said.
Criminals are plotting how to "hijack" vulnerable internet-enabled devices such as home security cameras or televisions and more crime needs digital forensic analysis, David Crozier added.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has warned its operation responding to the growth in online wrongdoing could be limited by the financial climate ahead - with civil servants planning for widespread cuts.
Mr Crozier, from Queen's University's Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) in Belfast, said: "If their cyber crime budget is cut they don't have the resource to go out and carry out that digital forensics work and you get this back-up of work.
"Bags and bags of hard drives or whatever sitting on shelves waiting to be analysed to help detect who carried out a particular crime."
Although a sizeable chunk of the PSNI's budget is protected, civil servants have outlined scenarios based on real-term cuts to parts of Stormont's operations running public services - worth 0.9% next year and 2.3% in 2019/20.
For police that could mean "less capacity" to address serious and organised crime, to provide local neighbourhood policing or to respond to the growth in child sexual exploitation and cyber crime.
Mr Crozier is head of strategic partnerships at a major research hub into cyber security based in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
He said: "The problem with cyber crime is it is really easy to scale up the amount of activity.
"You might have maybe tens of victims of an ordinary criminal but with cyber crime it is so easy to target many thousands of individuals, or millions of individuals, that actually the scale or the number of victims is significant and that is why it is such an expensive crime to police and detect and gather evidence.
"Where you then get the digital forensics which might show there are potentially 20,000 victims here, any cut in the budget at all means that there are potentially thousands of victims that are not having police resources there to help them."
The PSNI said: "The Department of Finance has laid out three scenarios as part of a budget preparation exercise.
"PSNI has been asked to scenario plan a range of cuts, what these would mean to the organisation whilst always keeping the community at the heart of our decision-making, doing our best to protect the front line, and keeping people safe.
"This work is ongoing and will continue until an agreed budget is in place."