The Silent Crime Wave

We are in the midst of a crime wave. But unlike crime waves of the past, it is largely unseen. It goes by the name of cyber crime. Cyber crime is illegal activity (such as fraud, intellectual property theft, etc) using digital means such as hacking, viruses, and phishing scams.

Governments and law enforcement agencies world-wide are gradually latching on to its significance.

In the UK, for example, cyber crime was only last year first recorded in official statistics. Once it was, crime figures more than doubled. While there were 6.5 million conventional crime incidents in the previous 12 months, there were an additional 5.1 million incidents of online fraud and yet another 2.5 million non-financial crimes involving computers.

And it is by no means only a British phenomenon.

According to a 2014 report from the Washington-DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, the likely annual cost to the global economy from cyber crime is somewhere between $375 billion and $575 billion. As the report’s authors point out, even the smallest of these figures is more than the national income of most countries. 

Going back to the UK, there are signs that the threat of cyber crime is rising dramatically. A survey conducted for the UK’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport found that two thirds of the country’s large businesses experienced a cyber breach or attack in the previous year. And that over half now consider cyber attacks to be their biggest threat. That’s up from 29% in 2014.

There is also evidence that concerns over cyber crime are making people more cautious in their online behavior. This has the potential to have an even more damaging impact on business than the direct losses.

According to a survey of 41,000 households by the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), 19 per cent of US Internet-using households—nearly 19 million—reported that they had been affected by an online security breach, identity theft, or similar malicious activity during the 12 months prior to July 2015. And 45 per cent of online households reported that security concerns stopped them from conducting financial transactions, buying goods or services, posting on social networks, or expressing opinions on controversial or political issues via the Internet.

The situation is rapidly reaching a crisis point. As communications technology insiders will happily admit, the Internet was never deigned to be a secure system; it was designed to be resilient. Unfortunately, if the Internet is to retain the trust of businesses and consumers alike, it has to be made more secure. And that may not be such a simple task. 

In the next post in this series, we explore what governments and industry bodies are doing to counter the threats posed by cyber crime. In the final post we offer some concrete advice on what organisations can do to better protect themselves.

All posts in this series:

1) The Silent Crime Wave

2) Cyber Crime: How Are Governments Protecting Businesses Worldwide?

3) Ten Steps Businesses Should Take To Protect Against Cyber Crime

Peter Purton is a London-based writer and editor, specializing in explaining the impact on business of innovations in information and communication technologies.

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