It's been revealed that the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, a now-defunct government agency specialising in tech crime, no longer owns the domain name for its website.

IT security and control firm Sophos, who discovered the gaffe, is now calling on UK authorities to take more control of both their current and old websites, as websites around the world continue to link to the old www.nhtcu.org, despite it being bought on August 2 this year by a German internet marketer.

While Sophos experts point out that the new owner of the website, Uwe Matt, has done nothing illegal in buying it, they say the authorities should never have allowed it. In Sophos' opinion, Matt is likely to have bought the site to get higher rankings on search engines like Google. But Sophos maintains that, should the domain fall into the wrong hands in the future, visitors clicking old links could be in for a nasty surprise.

'Demonstrates a sloppiness'

"If you can steal the identity of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit from right under the Government's nose then what message does that give the world about the state of the nation's computer security? "Letting the domain name go like this demonstrates a sloppiness on the part of the authorities," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

He continued: "In the worst possible scenario, fraudsters could in future use the site to pretend to be the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and try and harvest confidential information from computer crime victims,

"This situation may never arise, but the message is clear - all organisations must take proper care of their website domains, especially if they are widely linked to from other sites."

The NCTU's work came to an end in April 2006, integrating its fight for cyber justice into the Serious Organised Crime Unit.