Three new regional e-crime hubs have been opened at locations around the UK, with the aim of providing police forces with localised support for dealing with cybercrime.

The new hubs, in Yorkshire and the Humber, the Northwest and the East Midlands, were launched at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) e-crime conference in Sheffield on Wednesday. Each centre will initially consist of three members of staff – a detective sergeant and two detective constables.

The centres will generate their own investigations, as well as working alongside the Metropolitan Police Centre e-crime Unit (PCeU), which was established in October 2008 to deal with national online security.

“Cybercrime is a threat locally and nationally, and every police force in the country has to deal with its impact on people and businesses in their area,” said James Brokenshire, Minister for Crime and Security. “As well as leading the fight in their regions, these units mark a significant step forward in developing a national response to cybercrime, which will be driven by the new National Crime Agency.”

Cybercrime was identified as a ‘tier one’ threat in the government's National Security Risk Assessment, published in October 2010. This is the same category assigned to international terrorism, an international military crisis, and a major accident or natural hazard requiring a national response.

Prime Minister David Cameron said at the time that £650 million had been earmarked for the implementation of a new cyber security initiative. A further £30 million has since been granted over four years to improve national capability to investigate and combat cybercrime.

“The Government has acknowledged a need to collaborate and provide a structured response to the cyber security of the UK and these three additional policing units are going to play a critical role in our ability to combat the threat,” said ACPO's lead on e-crime, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Janet Williams. “It is anticipated the hubs will make a significant contribution to the national harm reduction target of £504 million.”

Within the first 18 months of activity, the PCeU has conducted seven operations, resulting in an overall harm prevention figure of £83 million, according to ACPO.

The move to increase the funding and reach of e-crime prevention efforts has been praised by security professionals.

“Until now, most of the police's expertise in computer-based crime has been concentrated in the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Met,” said David Emm, a security researcher for Kaspersky, speaking to the BBC. “Clearly, the government is keen to widen the field of expertise, and this is part of that initiative.”

Meanwhile, McAfee CTO Raj Samani said that the additional police focus on cybercrime reflects the size of the problem.

“While it’s great to see this commitment from the police, we also have to get better at protecting our personal information if we want to slow cyber criminals’ success,” he said. “Technology can only take us so far: the rest is education and vigilance on the part of computer users.”