Sergeant Phil Cobley is both the Digital Forensics Manager and Cyber Crime Investigation Manager within Bedfordshire Police’s brand new Cyber Hub – a unit dedicated to analysing digital data to investigate cyber crime.
I suppose before I joined the police, I was conflicted about what I wanted to do. I got all the grades I needed at school to go and get a degree in computer science. That was what I was really interested in, but at the same time I was desperate to give policing a go and see whether it was for me.
As interested as I am in computer science and programming, I thought policing would be an incredible career path to go down. I thought, why not see if I can combine my two passions?
I decided to do my two-year police probationary period, and if I didn’t like it I could always go back and do the degree I’d planned.
Thankfully, I loved policing straight away and didn’t have to think twice about staying.
After being promoted to sergeant and working within both patrol and custody, it occurred to me that, outside of my job and playing sport, I could always put my time to good use and still get my degree part-time.
At the age of 26, I began a distance-learning Bachelor of Science degree in Software Development and Networking, and have been doing it ever since.
At work I went for a post preparing implementation of a new IT system and from there got offered a post in High Tech Crime – now amalgamated as part of the brand new force Cyber Hub. I began learning about digital forensics and cyber investigations, and I lapped up every second.
Now, my spare time is taken up with sport, my degree AND reading up on anything and everything to do with cyber. I am really passionate about it and the difference we can make.
I felt Bedfordshire Police’s response to this growing threat should be really progressive, and that we had an opportunity to build further on the capabilities we already had. Thankfully the whole force has been behind this drive and, here we are – with a dedicated Cyber Hub which can support the great work going on in the rest of the organisation.
I feel incredibly lucky managing the digital forensics and cyber investigation teams, not just because of the work, but also because everyone in the unit absolutely loves what they do and are as passionate as me about the digital world.
We can’t ignore cyber crime.
Criminality is moving online – we have identified that it is happening, so we now have a responsibility to ensure that policing keeps up with what the bad guys are doing. We have to start properly horizon-scanning to identify what could be next around the corner, so that we can prepare for it.
I like to think that the work we do makes a real difference. Around 70-80 per cent of the work we deal with involves child sexual offences, indecent images and grooming – cyber investigation is a vital cog in the wider team of policing that can help trace those responsible.
The criminals out there should realise that all digital activity leaves a footprint, which we are expertly trained to trace.
I would hope that any youngsters out there who are like me – interested in computers and with an appetite for learning more – use their skills in the right way.
Many youngsters who learn certain things like coding, but don’t necessarily know the legislation behind computer misuse, could well find themselves going down the wrong path – ending up on the dark web, malicious hacking or downloading programs they don’t understand.
They could end up with a criminal record or being blacklisted from the types of cyber security jobs they would probably be ideally suited to, such as ethical hacking and penetration testing which is simply applying the same skills, but for the right reasons.
We have a huge skills gap in cyber security in the UK and it needs filling, so they should speak to their schools, computing groups and societies, consider policing and other avenues, and take advantage of the right opportunities so that they can help in the fight against cyber criminality.
I made that choice, and I’ve never looked back.