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The head of the computer crimes division at the Israel Police's National Fraud Squad warned yesterday that the Internet in Israel was a breeding ground for criminal activity and that the police were ill-equipped to deal with the phenomenon.

"There is a vast amount of hacker activity on the Net in Israel that we are completely unaware of," deputy commander Meir Zohar said yesterday at the seventh annual conference of the Israel Internet Association.

"The crimes and the criminals that we do know of are only the tip of the iceberg. This is a widespread phenomenon that is simply not being handled."

The computer crime unit was set up three years ago and currently has a staff of eight, although its mandate calls for a full complement of 17 investigators. Not only is this number not enough for the unit's cases, but, Zohar pointed out, the police also passed on many of their complaints to the unit despite there being many police officers qualified to deal with computer crime.

In addressing the annual conference in Ramat Gan, association president Amir Etzioni noted that there were currently 53,000 registered domains under the .il suffix. This number, he said, was lower than a year earlier - when there were 58,290 such domains - despite 9,583 new registrations during 2002.