Cybercrime: who will protect British consumers?

Cybercrime affects one in ten adults in the UK. The National Crime Agency estimates its cost to British companies at billions of pounds a year. Is the tech industry ready and willing to tackle the issue?

One in ten

One in ten is the title of a UB40 song​ from 1981. The title and lyrics have been inspired by the fact that one-tenth of the adult population in the West Midlands was unemployed at the time.  

Fast-forward to 2016, the unemployment slightly decreased, but we have a new problem: cybercrime. As it happens, one in ten adults in the UK has been a victim of online fraud or computer misuse last year.

According to ONS, there were almost six million cases of online fraud and cybercrime last year in England and Wales. The most common types of cybercrime were bank and credit account fraud, with 2.5 million incidents, followed by "non-investment" fraud, which includes incidents related to e-commerce.

Cybercrime has a different victim profile than other crime types. It pertains mostly to people living in rural areas, the middle-aged, and those who work in managerial and professional jobs – groups otherwise rather safe in the society. Interestingly, 18 per cent of victims have been targeted more than once.

Let's talk money

Six million cases may sound massive as it is, but this reflects the success in the adoption of digital services in the UK. Britons love e-commerce. The online retail industry was expected to grow 10.5 per cent last year and was supposed to reach £155 billion of turnover​.

With such a big market and so many cases of fraud, the impact of cybercrime on British economy is staggering, although precise numbers are difficult to estimate. 

In the ​report published on 18 Oct 2016, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and Get Safe Online have revealed that the UK economy lost £10.9 billion as a result of fraud in 2015/2016.   

Commenting on those numbers,​​Tony Neate​, Chief Executive of Get Safe Online, said: 

“The fact that the UK is losing nearly £11 billion to cyber criminals is frightening and highlights the need for each and every one of us to make sure we are taking our online safety seriously. It is clear from our survey that people are very concerned, and rightly so.”

Indeed, the report shows that on average the cybercrime sets the victim back over five hundred pounds.

City of London Police Commander ​​Chris Greany​, the Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime, added: 

“The huge financial loss to cybercrime hides the often harrowing human stories that destroy lives and blights every community in the UK. All of us need to ask ourselves are we doing everything we can to protect ourselves from online criminals.”

From the business perspective, the cost is even higher. According to Ponemon Institute’s survey​ of 39 UK-based organisations, the mean annualised cost of cybercrime is £4.1 million per year, reaching as much as £16 million per year at one of the companies. In the companies who participated in this study on average 49 per cent of all cybercrime losses were caused by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, malicious insiders and web-based attacks. Apart from that, there are also other, indirect, costs: damage to branding and reputation and loss of intellectual property and commercially sensitive data.

Who is going to stop it?

Admittedly, the government sees the problem. The National Cybercrime Unit, Action Fraud and FALCON are all good efforts to tackle the issue. Good but not good enough.

Let's call a spade a spade:It is the tech industry that enables cybercrime. The tech industry will either solve it or suffer from it.

The Deloitte Consumer Review ​points out that cybercrime impacts customer trust in companies and technologies.

Three in four consumers would reconsider using a given company’s services after a data breach. One-third would be ready to close an online account or stop doing business with the company in such case. By the way, Deloitte believes that cybercrime costs the UK £34 billion a year – this is the highest number I have found so far!

My speciality is digital marketing. Almost everything I do relies on opt-in communication and data processing. Cybercrime makes consumers reluctant to share their data. Think about it, what would happen to Facebook if users just stopped sharing their data? From this perspective, cybercrime puts the whole economy at risk. The Internet economy, based on online subscriptions and payments, suffers the most.

Almost one year ago, on 22 Oct 2015, techUK called on the Police and Industry to work together to tackle cybercrime. They published a​​ set of recommendations, but is it enough?

Personally, I believe that the tech industry is the only sector that has the knowledge, capacity and interest to eradicate cybercrime.

In the opinion of Adam Nowak, Head of Technology at Netguru, it's the responsibility of web service owners to provide their customers with all the necessary security measures. While developing a new product or webpage, the security of its future users should be of utmost importance from the very beginning of the process.

We have so many more interesting things to play with – drones, Virtual Reality goggles, Artificial Intelligence bots, IoT and Quantified Self gadgets. Something new pops up every day. The tech industry is working hard, startups are crunching and pitching, and giants are fighting the war of ecosystems. There is no time to reflect and see that some fraudsters from remote locations can destroy it all by robbing and scaring away our users. Who would agree to use a digital health solution that could potentially be hacked? Who will store all the photos of their on a flawed device that can be encrypted by ransomware? Who will entrust your new fintech company with their credit card details?

We need to make the online world secure for our users, and it should be a top priority for the tech community. We need to carefully design, meticulously test and tirelessly patch our software.

In other words, we must do the dull and annoying things that are so often dropped to sprint with new features.

I am just a marketer, and like Jon Snow, I know nothing. Would youput tackling cybercrime on top of your list?

Piotr Wrzosiński, digital marketing professional, Netguru.co
Image source: Shutterstock/AlexLMX