90 per cent increase in cyber crimes reveals ‘tidal wave’ of computer offences sweeping Britain

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90 per cent increase in cyber crimes reveals ‘tidal wave’ of computer offences sweeping Britain

Britain is experiencing a massively under-reported “tidal wave” of cyber crime costing billions of pounds a year which police forces are dedicating only a fraction of their budgets towards solving, an investigation by the i can reveal.

From computer offences committed by primary school children who are so young that they cannot be prosecuted to digital conmen defrauding young professionals looking online for love, the number of cyber offences investigated by police has risen by nearly 90 per cent in the last year.

One per cent

Yet figures obtained by the the i and Johnston Press Investigations show police forces across the United Kingdom on average are dedicating just one per cent of their budgets to cyber crime.

The average spend on cyber crime across nine forces which provided figures on their budget was just one per cent. One force, Cambridgeshire spent £722,000 or 0.55 per cent of its annual budget on cybercrime.

Data released under Freedom of Information rules shows that up to 85 per cent of reported online crimes are going unsolved and that the 39,339 offences reported to 30 out of the 45 police forces in the UK in the last 12 months represent only a fraction of the true number of offences being committed.

Global problem

Despite longstanding evidence that much of the cyber threat to the UK stems from organised crime syndicates in Russian-speaking countries, law enforcement officials say the ability to launch attacks is “increasingly global” and that British criminals have built closer links to the “elite level of cyber crime” than previously thought.

Fraud is now estimated to cost the British economy as much as £193bn a year – significantly more than the £122bn annual cost of the NHS – with 70 per cent of those offences enabled using computers.

A former intelligence officer at GCHQ, which leads Britain’s cyber defence capabilities, told JP Investigations that the UK and other developed countries are “on the losing end of an arms race” in which organised crime groups and hostile states are deploying powerful online tools to net million of pounds a day and disrupt daily life with attacks such as the ransomware assault which earlier this year disrupted the NHS.

Online fraud ‘overlooked’

The findings follow warnings made only  last month by Britain’s public spending watchdog that online fraud has been “overlooked by government, law enforcement and industry”.

The National Audit Office found that only one in every 150 police officers in England and Wales specialises in fraud despite the fact it is now the most prevalent crime in Britain, with the vast majority of those offences committed online.

Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, told JP Investigations: “As a country we rank below Brazil, China and South Africa when it comes to keeping our computers and phones secure. We should be in no doubt that we need to raise our game when it comes to cyber security, and that includes the Government.

“From police forces investing in tackling online crime to investing in young people to ensure we have the skills we currently lack, the Government needs to do more and faster. The threat of cybercrime is growing.”

‘Winter is coming’

The Government itself has acknowledged that some police forces are doing too little to tackle cyber crime, with one minister citing the Game of Thrones television series by warning “winter is coming” concerning online crime and fraud.

Security minister Ben Wallace called on victims of cyber crime to report offences but revealed that seven police forces have no dedicated fraud or cyber crime unit. In little noticed comments earlier month, Mr Wallace said: “This thing is only going to go one way, it is growing and the barriers to entry for cyber fraud are lowering on an almost daily basis.”

Data obtained by the investigation suggests that the true scale of the suffering caused by online crime – whose victims range from doctors targeted by identity thieves to a grandmother defrauded of her life savings – is indeed vastly under-reported.

Off-the-shelf cyber attacks

A key development in the last 12 months has been the increase in so-called “as-a-service” online attacks whereby offenders ranging from mafia-style crime syndicates to teenagers wanting to disrupt their schools can commission an off-the-shelf cyber attack via the internet without needing the technical knowledge that would have been previously required for such an assault.

The i has been told of one incident where a 14-year-old in the north west of England paid £10 on the Dark Web to commission a denial of service attack to bombard his school’s internet portal simply to avoid doing his homework. The attack caused significant disruption to school’s computer network. In South Yorkshire, police have had to shelve prosecutions for cyber crime offences after finding that the suspects were still at primary school and therefore below the age of criminal responsibility.

While the police forces which responded to FOI requests said they had received just under 40,000 reports of cyber crime in the last financial year, the Office of National Statistics estimates that there were 1.9 million victims of computer misuse offences in England and Wales in the past year. Crime figures released this week suggested that there 5.1m fraud and computer-enabled offences in England and Wales last year.

While the police forces which responded to FOI requests said they had received just under 40,000 reports of cyber crime in the last financial year, the Office of National Statistics estimates that there were 1.9 million victims of computer misuse offences in England and Wales in the past year. Crime figures released this week suggested that there 5.1m fraud and computer-enabled offences in England and Wales last year.

Two per cent

This suggests that as little as two per cent of online crimes are being reported, with victims often too embarrassed or worried about reputational damage to come forward, or even simply unaware that they have been targeted.

The National Crime Agency, which leads the fight on organised crime, warned earlier this month: “Under-reporting of cyber crime remains a key barrier to our understanding of its true scale and cost.”

Based on responses from 30 out of 45 police forces across the UK, the number of cyber crimes – defined as a criminal act involving the misuse of computers as well as conventional crimes committed over the internet – rose from 21,307 in 2015/16 to 39,339 in 2016/17, an increase of 86 per cent.

Ransomware

Some of that increase can be explained by changes to crime recording rules.

But experts agree that they also coincide with a dramatic increase in activity by cyber criminals. The number of variants of ransomware – the type of virus which encrypts users’ data and will only return it in return for a payment in an electronic currency such as Bitcoin – offered by hacking gangs grew tenfold between the end of 2015 and last autumn.

The figures are evidence of a world where the enmeshing of technology with almost every interaction comes at  an increasing price as people fall victim to crime that targets basic human vulnerabilities.

Bigamy

Among the offences investigated by police in the last three years as having been committed at least in part over the internet were crimes of bigamy, conspiracy to murder and kidnapping.

The Government last year announced it will spend £1.9bn as part of an updated cyber security strategy which included the launch of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ dedicated to helping thwart high-level attacks such as the WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS in May.

But experts told the i that while the NCSC is adequately staffed, its specialists would be unable to halt an all-out attack on Britain and the UK as a whole suffers from a chronic shortage of technical knowledge required to combat cyber crime.

‘You need running shoes to keep up with them’

Dr Tim Owen, director of the cyber crime research unit at University of Central Lancashire, said: “We see the internet as the fastest growing place for crime and deviance today. Even though there is a lot of work going on to tackle cyber crime, some cyber criminals are so skilful, you need running shoes to keep up with them.”

Despite growing emphasis from Whitehall downwards on the need for police forces to devote resources to computer and internet offences, in particular fraud, the investigation found evidence that these resources are at best thinly spread.

The average spend on cyber crime across nine forces which provided figures on their budget was just one per cent. One force, Cambridgeshire spent £722,000 or 0.55 per cent of its annual budget on cyber crime.

Resources

Senior officers insisted they do have the resources necessary to tackle cyber crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Fyfe, of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, said: “I think there is a real lack of understanding about how much we can do. In the last three years, policing has really upped its game in its capability and responsiveness to cyber attacks.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are investing £1.9bn to support the national cyber security strategy until 2021, which includes ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have the capacity to deal with the increasing volume and sophistication of cyber crime.

“It is for police and crime commissioners and chief constables to decide how best to deploy resources to manage and respond to crime in their areas.”

Author – Cahal Milmo

Source – https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/uk/investigation-90-per-cent-increase-cyber-crimes-reveals-tidal-wave-computer-offences-sweeping-britain/

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