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Cybercrime: the facts and figures

By Tabby Farrar on 03 Apr, 2019

Most people are now familiar with the concept of hackers, and it’s rare for anyone with an email address to have avoided fraudulent spam mail entirely. But with cybercrime on the increase worldwide, are we too complacent when it comes to considering risks? And are our perceptions of cybercrime on a scale that matches the reality?

In the UK alone, cases of online fraud each year run into the multi-millions – from the hacking and misuse of personal information to the distribution of viruses and malware to victims’ devices. The total cost of this kind of crime is around £27 billion per year. In the USA, cybercrime cost more than £760 million in 2017, and the global total is thought to be around £456 million per year.

Though it’s easy to think that online criminals primarily target large organisations, this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Consumer-focused cybercrime

In 2017, 17 million British internet users became victims of cybercrime, losing £4.6 billion to hackers between them and taking, on average, two days dealing with the aftermath of their attack. The types of crime affecting people were mainly low-tech, wide-reaching scams, such as being caught out by phishing emails that requested personal information.

In the UK, the most expensive crimes are fraudulent purchases, where hackers use stolen payment card details to spend victims’ money online. Ransomware attacks are the next most costly, and have actually proven to be more expensive, on average, than many varieties of phishing or device-takeover attack.

Over in the USA, figures are similarly bleak. 143 million Americans were victims of cybercrime in 2017, accounting for more than half the online population. That added up to nearly $20 billion lost to criminals, which was in many cases attributed to poor password choices and the sharing of re-used password details.

UK citizens are just some of those around the world who are more likely to become victims of cybercrime than any other type of crime, but research still shows that most people think it will never happen to them. As well as complacency around the idea of becoming a specific target, something that’s often overlooked is the impact that crime against corporations can have on everyday service users.

How individuals are affected by corporate hacks

Even if you have a range of cyber defences in place, attacks against big organisations can have an immediate and lasting effect on everyday internet users. In recent years there have been a spate of serious data thefts from organisations like Yahoo, eBay, Uber and Adobe, with Yahoo’s alone impacting three billion people around the world.

When you sign up to a new email account, online retail account or many other things online, you generally hand over everything from your date of birth and telephone number to your home address and credit card details, depending on the service. If a group of hackers targets an organisation you’ve given your details to, it doesn’t take much for them to capture more than enough information to turn you into their next victim. And if you’ve used the password from a compromised account elsewhere, it may not be long before your other accounts are compromised too.

147.9 million people were affected by the Equifax data breach, and after the popular MyFitnessPal app was hacked in 2018, creators Under Armour announced that at least 150 million users’ details had been exposed. Failing to update passwords and secure bank accounts after a service you use has been hacked can be catastrophic, and when there’s already a 1 in 4 chance that you could be the victim of direct cyber crime, it’s important to be aware that corporate hacks can affect you too.

How to protect against online crime

From phishing to file hijacking, keylogging to Man-in-The-Middle attacks, a quick look into the types of cybercrime that might affect you can make it seem like there’s no escape. Cybercriminals are constantly thinking of new ways to outsmart people’s defences, but that’s a good reason to think seriously about what you can do to make yourself into a more difficult target than somebody else.

Starting strong

At a basic level, common sense and thinking twice are the foundation of staying secure. Before you get into the best tools to use, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the potential threats that you face online and how to spot red flags. Phishing emails are getting harder and harder to tell apart from the real thing, and malicious apps do make it into both the App Store and Play Store online.

Take the time to remember key warning signs that something online may not be all it seems, and question the legitimacy of links and file downloads before you click.

Virus protection

It’s taken for granted now that new devices like laptops and tablets will come with some kind of free antivirus installed, but it’s worth doing your research here too. A good antivirus package should offer things like email scanning to spot phishing attempts and malicious downloads, a strong firewall to stop invasive attacks and features like a ransomware blocker to stop important files being encrypted without your permission. Have a security app installed on your smartphone too.

Additional barriers

Common sense and antivirus go a long way to keeping things safe, but the more defence you have the safer your data will be. Consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, to encrypt your web traffic while you’re browsing the internet. That way as well as protecting your device itself, you can also hide any information you enter online and ensure that only the intended recipient sees it.

Finally, as poor password choices remain such a prevalent weakness in many people’s armoury, be sure to take the time to set different secure passwords across your accounts and regularly update them, and consider adopting a password manager program to keep things locked down for you and ensure you don’t have to remember all the different ones.