By Steve McCaskill
New government research claims that half of Brits have fallen victim to cyber-crime, with 53 percent viewing online offenses as serious as those committed in the physical world, but just 32 percent have reported such incidents to the authorities, masking the true financial impact, which is currently calculated at £670 million a year.
The Cabinet Office, through initiatives like the Get Safe Online and Cyber Streetwise campaigns, wants to raise awareness of cyber-crime and the reporting methods available to victims. Of those who said they had suffered at the hands of cyber-criminals, only 47 percent knew to report the incident to Action Fraud, the policy body that handles such cases.
Victims fell prey to a number of crimes, including online fraud, IDT heft, hacking and online abuse, with half of them saying the experience had left them feeling "very or extremely violated." The government says this demonstrates that cyber-crime has not just a financial cost, but an emotional one too.
Francis Maude, Minister for the cabinet office, says the government is committed to making the U.K. a safe place for online commerce and wants consumers and businesses to protect themselves against criminal gangs.
"The U.K. cyber market is worth over £80 billion a year and rising," he says. "The Internet is undoubtedly a force for good, but we cannot stand still in the face of these threats, which already cost our economy billions every year.
"We want to make the U.K. one of the most secure places to do business in cyberspace. We have a £860 million Cyber Security Programme which supports law enforcement's response to cyber-crime, and we are working with the private sector to help all businesses protect vital information assets."
The Cabinet Office's survey did reveal that some who fell prey to scams did improve their online behavior. Nearly half said they changed their password to something stronger, 42 percent said they are no more vigilant online, 37 percent always log out of online accounts when they aren't using them and 18 percent altered their settings on social media.
Web User Apathy
But there is still work to be done. More than half of mobile phone users and a third of laptop users don't have a PIN code or password, a figure which increases to 59 percent of PC users and 67 percent of tablet owners.
Security experts say that this is an example of "apathy" among Web users that no cyber-security campaign can cure.
"While there have been many notable attempts to place the threat of hacking and data breaches in the public eye, it's possible that the recent celebrity iCloud hacks have had more of an impact on public perception than any cyber-security awareness week ever could," says Chris Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes.
"There is a significant amount of apathy amongst the average person when it comes to protecting themselves online, which is compounded by the ever evolving complexity and success of cyber-crime, so whilst education is important, it's also difficult.
"Walking into a police station to report an online crime is often frustrating, as it requires specialist knowledge to deal with each case. You can report online criminal activity in the U.K. to Action Fraud, but getting that message to the average person on the street is difficult—and with increased visibility comes a rise in cost and resources. Unfortunately, it seems we can't have our cake and eat it."