Cybercrime backlog 'a significant risk' to RCMP, internal audit warns

OTTAWA – Rising cybercrime has left the RCMP program that investigates everything from child pornography to online fraud with a backlog that poses a serious risk to its work, says a newly released audit.

The internal audit of the RCMP’s technological crime program found a backlog of requests to analyze computing devices — potentially crucial pieces of evidence — at all five program units the reviewers visited.

“All program managers are concerned that the number of requests for assistance and devices being analyzed by the (program) has been increasing year after year,” says the audit report.

“This was identified as a significant risk to the program.”

The auditors called for “immediate attention” to address the backlog.

The RCMP’s technological crime program helps with investigations involving organized crime, national security, fraud, hacking, homicide, drugs, child porn and others requiring expertise with digital technology.

The program comprises a headquarters branch with various expert teams and 11 technological crime units across the country.

The report says the audit was undertaken in recognition of “an increase in criminal activity” involving computers and other electronic devices — crimes including cyber-fraud perpetrated on unwitting consumers and use of mobile devices to plan illegal operations.

The audit was completed last February but only recently made public by the national police force. Portions considered too sensitive to disclose — including two other problem areas requiring prompt attention — were withheld by the RCMP.

The report also cited a need to “establish and implement clear strategic direction” for the program.

In addition, it raised questions about whether Mounties were following the best possible practices to ensure the seized computing devices were secured when left unattended — a practice necessary to ensure there is no tampering or other corruption of the evidence.

In a written response included in the audit report, a senior RCMP officer said the technological crime program finds itself in a period of unprecedented global technological change during an era of austerity, “effectively creating an extremely challenging operating environment.”

“Furthermore, cybercrime is quickly becoming a phenomenon which has garnered the attention of the public, media, law enforcement and governments around the world,” said Line Carbonneau, RCMP deputy commissioner for policing support services.

She said while the federal cybersecurity strategy announced in 2010 provided money for administrative help, there was none for front-line investigators to address “gaps in service delivery.”

Still, she said the Mounties were “committed to addressing the deficiencies” noted in the report.

Since the audit, the RCMP has put in place a new system for prioritizing cybercrime case files.

In addition, RCMP members can make requests for help from other divisions to reduce the backlog of service calls, the police force said in its most recent annual performance report.

The force also said it was moving to improve the handling of electronic exhibits while “ensuring integrity of the evidence.”

An RCMP spokesman had no immediate comment on the report’s findings.