Crime fighters hope software to be introduced soon will help foil computer crooks who are using ever more sophisticated ways to hide evidence. The police technology crime division will use the software to collect data from computers that might have been used in crimes. They say the software, developed by Australian police and dubbed Spada (system preview and data acquisition), will allow officers to retrieve data from computer hard drives without damaging them at the crime scenes. Paul Jackson, chief inspector of the forensics section of the technology crime division, said the division's job had become more challenging as new ways emerged of storing data. 'There are different kinds of computers, such as pocket PCs, which everyone can have in one's hands. Evidence may also be stored in tiny USB devices,' said the inspector, who has served in the unit for 19 years. 'Technology moves fast and more people are now using encryption. It has made it harder to find evidence,' Chief Inspector Jackson said. The 19-strong forensics section is responsible for retrieving data from computers that might have been involved in crimes. The new software has been customised by the centre for information security and cryptography of the University of Hong Kong. 'It also supports reading Asian characters such as Japanese, which will be common in crimes related to pornographic websites,' the centre's associate director Chow Kam-pui said. By the end of October, the number of computer crimes had reached 549 and assistant commissioner of police Vincent Wong Fook-chuen anticipated the full-year figure to be around 650, a 10 per cent fall from last year's figure of 741. According to police figures, the detection rate of such crimes was only 10 per cent last year, much lower than the overall rate of about 44 per cent.