THE number of cybercrimes recorded by police in Scotland has more than tripled in a year.

New figures show that officers chalked up an offence, which include sex crimes, involving digital devices on average once an hour over six months.

Force chiefs now expect figures to rise even further and new technology and better awareness allows them to get a clearer picture of exactly how much criminality has gone electronic.

The latest statistical bulletin from Police Scotland said 4,495 crimes – from sex cases to frauds – had been marked as "cyber" in April-September 2019.

That is up by more than 215% from the same six months of last year.

Police say there may not have been a sudden leap in cybercrime but instead they are getting better at identifying more crimes as being "cyber".

But the bulletin said the figures are not yet complete for all divisions and look set to rise even further.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham explained: "We did not have the means with some of the legacy technology to adequately capture the digital element of all the things that are happening.

"Now with a bit more sophistication, we can capture the digital nature of a whole series of different crimes are.

"There is not an offence of cybercrime. So we are looking at other crimes that have digital element."

Such data helps, Mr Graham said, to kickstart conversations about how to tackle the issue, and not just in policing.

He said: "It is only be use being able to demonstrate the changing nature and feel of these crimes that we will be able to identify the techniques we will need to keep people safe. If you can't describe a problem it is really hard to get people to brigade round about the answer."

Police Scotland is running a "Tag it, Mark it, Log it" campaign to encourage officers and staff to mark crimes with a cyber element.

Across the UK, authorities have still to pin down exactly the scale of cybercrime.

Police Scotland say there is an annual UK loss from cybercrime of up to £3 billion a year.

DCC Graham added: "I am really keen to use the language of 'policing in the digital age' because 'cybercrime' leads people down a quite legitimate path of the things that are happening in directed attacks, computers and technology, disabled communication, the stuff we see playing out in the wider world, in elections and attempts by people – and at times states – to influence outcomes through social media.

"We have gone from a position where Facebook was a trusted source of friendly communication between networked people to a point where people are quite suspicious about some of the motivations and the privacy and integrity issues that lie behind the use of that data."

The force also said that the internet was used to commit one in five sex crimes in 2016-17.

In the retail industry, 56% of fraud offences across the UK were cyber-related, with a cost of £100m. Two-thirds of stalking and harassment cases were also digitally enabled.

But ransomware attacks, a type of malicious software, or malware, designed to deny access to a computer system or data until a ransom is paid, appear to be on the decline – but remain a Europol priority.

Mr Graham stressed cybercrime was far wider than this traditional type of activity and now stretches across various forms of criminality.

He said: "It is without boundaries. The victims and the perpetrators are not necessarily going to be in the same place. It might be domestic abuse, it might be an organised crime group based in the same area.

"But the growing experience is that the victims and the perpetrators are dislocated, nationally, and potentially internationally, so a big element of this is our ability to work with other national and international law enforcement agencies, the National Crime Agency the security services and to grow that co-operation to sharing info we need so people in other jurisdictions can be held to account."

He added: "They are fighting crime on the front line that people are living on."

Not all crimes are cybercrimes, but almost all – "the vast majority", said Mr Graham – have some kind of electronic or digital element, whether in its execution or its detection.

"Every crime type certainly could have a digital footprint. I am not saying every single crime would. But there is always going to be some element of evidence that is digital."