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Police cyber specialists - meet this rare breed!

police cyber specialists
Steve Shepherd

You don't see many police cyber specialists. So when you find one, it's worth having a chat.

Lat week, SWCRC met up with one of the local police cyber specialists. They're few in number, and many people we come across don't know that they're there at all. And those who do know are often a bit confused. There's a regional team. There's a local force team. And there's a cyber resilience centre team. So who does what? And how do you find them? We asked.

Steve Shepherd is one of Devon and Cornwall's so-called Cyber Protect Officers. "In an nutshell, we provide help, guidance and reassurance for communities, businesses and charities. We give up to date information on what's happening in the world of cyber and how people can best go about protecting themselves and their businesses.

"We go out through social media, through local councils, through other partnership groups like the Cyber Resilience Centre. It's primarily about presentations but we'll also do some preventive work... Just having a chat about what people are already doing right now, and what they could be doing in the future."

Sounds kind of familiar. Here at the Cyber Resilience Centre, we do that too. Should we be feeling threatened?

"The Cyber Resilience Centre definitely overlaps with the work of local teams. But we can do more in some ways, less in others," explained Mark Moore, centre director. "More, because we have an ongoing relationship with those who sign up for our support. We have the systems to stay in regular touch, with frequent updates; and we have a breadth of offering that enables us to provide technical services when required. But less, because we focus solely on organisations, where the in-force cyber teams also help schoolkids, the elderly, and community gatherings of individuals who want to know more about digital safety. We don't have the time to do that, and we can't sit down for a coffee and chat with every small business across our seven counties. That might be where a local officer complements us really well."

Steve continues. "If you're a sole trader, we'd give you some guidance on what safer looks like. We'd also signpost you to some good resources. We can do it however works, and is best for the person... Whether it's one to one, a larger group, teams, phone call, in person - we're flexible. But time can be an issue for us too. We rely quite heavily on our neighbourhood teams to engage on a very basic level. We support them if it's something a bit more complicated. And regionally, we can also link in with the South West's organised crime unit - and the national team - if there's something quite complex.

"We don't do training, but we do deliver interactive education... things like the lego disruptions game and the escape room. It's a good way to get people thinking about cyber in a fun and engaging way. And it's free of charge."

Steve explains that there are other teams who undertake the technical work on investigations and the like. We also ask a bit about himself. "I'm a retired police officer, and my colleagues are generally not sworn officers. For my last seven years of service with the police, I was seconded as the law enforcement link to the UK safer internet centre, which is the UK centre for online safety. I found myself drawn to it. I did quite a lot of CPD in various roles - safeguarding, computers, programming, education - to get a rounded view. And I've been doing my current role for a year - I love it. What I enjoy most about the job is seeing so many different people, places, businesses and charities. They've all got that underlying need to be safer online. "

And lastly, just to check whether we're all hearing the same things, we ask Steve about the biggest challenge he faces in his role. "I find that most people are now aware of most of the main messages - passwords, updating, antivirus. The difficulty is that they think it's never going to happen to them. It's about helping them understand that this is a real threat."

So there you have it. Steve works in the small but perfectly formed Devon and Cornwall team. Looking across the region, though, you can find people like Steve in Avon and Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucester and Dorset. And if you aren't sure how to find them, do drop us a line, and we'll happily put you in touch. Because policing isn't just about when things go wrong. It's also about protecting you.


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