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Safer Cyber – Tackling online harms in Durham

Faced with an increase in online crime and harm across a range of themes including extremism, the Safe Durham Partnership chose to adopt ‘Tackling and Preventing Cyber Enabled Crime’ as one of their six partnership priorities.

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The partnership developed a holistic approach to cyber enabled crime which included raising awareness in the general population about staying safe online, reducing risk to the most vulnerable groups, and building resilience both to online radicalisation and that of local businesses to the threat of cyber crime.

This programme of work stretched across multiple disciplines with a focus on preventative activity and awareness raising.

The challenge

With over 740 cyber enabled crimes reported to Durham Police every quarter, and a culture of unreported crime potentially masking a more significant volume, the Safe Durham Partnership (Durham’s community safety partnership) was made aware of the potential impact of online harms when drafting their community safety strategy.

As well as criminal activity for profit or gain, the partnership was increasingly aware of the harm of exploitation taking place in the online space, for example in grooming, extremism, radicalisation and sexual offences. By adopting cyber enabled crime as a partnership priority, the partners made a clear commitment to addressing this issue as part of a broader programme of prevention and harm reduction across the county.

The solution

The partnership developed a dedicated cyber enabled crime sub-group to manage their response to these issues. This meeting oversaw the commonalities across the various themes which were affected by cyber enabled crime and ensured that crossovers between themes were identified and not allowed to duplicate or fall between priorities.

Delivery of activity in this space was supported by dedicated officers in Durham Police working in close partnership with officers in Durham County Council’s Neighbourhoods and Climate Change team. Working together the agencies devised an action plan based upon three objectives:

  • raising awareness in the general population about staying safe online
  • reducing risk to the most vulnerable groups
  • building the resilience of local businesses to the threat of cyber crime.

This action plan has a significant focus on community engagement, training and awareness raising, seeking to upskill members of the community not only for their own safety but also with the intention of them acting as ambassadors and utilising those new skills across their friends and families. This was particularly relevant when working with young people and schools, empowering those involved to take steps to work to support their own networks, including to build resilience to online extremism and radicalisation.

Within this work there was a significant partnership with New College Durham, a Further Education establishment on the outskirts of the city. This began with awareness raising sessions with the students which raised high levels of interest. As a result of this a range of workshops designed to help students stay safe digitally. The partnership with New College grew, and college students created a video called ‘HACK!’ highlighting the perils of cyber crime and online extremism to their peers - one of the objectives of the Safer Cyber Working Group. As cyber safety has emerged as an issue for us all, New College also now provides a Foundation Degree in Cyber Security for those looking for a career in the field.

The partnership has utilised a variety of innovative engagement tools to support this priority; workshops provided through this programme are interactive in nature, with a ‘Cyber Lego’ game – teaching participants to protect their organisation – a particular success. The Cyber Protect team participated in a ‘Cyber Escape Room’ and are looking to explore the further development of this for group and future events. The partnership is developing work with Virtual Reality headsets which will encourage greater participation and open up new opportunities for engagement and education.

As well as workshops, the work programme includes direct work with schools to support their data security and prevent hacking, and close links with Prevent training, seeking to protect vulnerable individuals from being drawn into extremism online. Durham sees these thematic crossovers as being the foundation of their cyber security work, and Durham Police’s dedicated Cyber supervisor works directly with subjects on the Channel Panel - a panel to support vulnerable individuals at risk from being drawn into terrorism - who have been engaged with online harms.

The impact

To date, over 1,000 Durham residents have engaged with the Friends Against Scams initiative. Around 200 staff and students engaged with various cyber safety activities at a recent New College event with over 200 signed up to upcoming sessions as a direct result of the session. As part of the objective of the Safer Cyber Working Group is to increase reporting, traditional measures of reduction in reported crime are not applicable to this theme. However, survey results on behaviour change are exceedingly positive, with those engaged reporting greater awareness and alterations to their responses to incidents. Cases in Prevent featuring online radicalisation are being monitored and specialised interventions sought where appropriate.

With one of the stated objectives to encourage the sharing of skills across families and networks, it is likely that the impact of this work in Durham is much greater than the raw figures of those who have engaged directly.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The entire programme of delivery is funded through core partnership budgets, with the only grant funding being a small amount of Police and Crime Commissioner funding to support the development of the ‘HACK!’ film created by New College students. Without a reliance on external funding the programme is sustainable as ‘business as usual’ for the partnership.

Lessons learned

Despite cyber crime not being a ‘traditional’ area for a community safety partnership to operate in, Durham have found their experience in this field highly rewarding and positive. They recognise that they are innovating in this area and are happy to develop learning as they proceed.

A strong emphasis on community engagement has been key to the success of the programme, and using peers to communicate key messages has been found to be a most impactful means of ensuring delivery, with a particular highlight being the development of the ‘HACK!’ video by college students.

Cyber related crime and online harms, including extremism and radicalisation, is a broad thematic area, so narrowing a focus to the themes and sectors of the highest vulnerability – to ensure resources are focused on the highest need – is a key recommendation from Durham to other areas seeking to replicate this work.

Above all, though, Durham’s lessons to other areas contemplating this is to ensure that when trying to encourage engagement, make sure that fun is high on the agenda!


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Safe Durham Partnership: Tackle and prevent cyber enabled crime

New College Durham: Safer cyber event details