Cyber-crime has surged in the past year, overtaking physical crime for the first time, the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS) has announced.
Previously, such statistics have been omitted from crime statistics, but with the inclusion of cyber-crime, a very different picture of crime in the UK emerges and results in a near doubling of the crime rate.
The new numbers show that there were 3.8 million incidents of fraud, half of which were cyber-related and 2 million incidents of computer misuse. This amounts to 5.8 million incidents, nearly as much as all other kinds of crime, combined. It is equivalent to one in 10 adults in the UK being affected by cyber-crime. Physical crime, which fell by six percent this year, topped out at 6.3 million incidents in total.
The statistics are drawn together from two sources: the Crime Survey for England and Wales – collated from face to face interviews with citizens – and police recorded crime. However, the ONS was keen to point out in its disclosure of the numbers, “Neither of these sources can provide a complete picture and each have different strengths and limitations.”
Brian Spector, CEO at MIRACL, told SCMagazineUK.com: “These figures suggest that nearly one in ten of us fell victim to online fraud in the last year. This is hardly surprising, given how laid back most people are about the potential risks of data theft and identity fraud.”
Chief among the subsets of fraud inflicted was bank and credit account fraud, accounting for 66 percent of the total.
“When it comes to banking fraud,” said Spector, “most people still consider this to be their bank's problem and assume that they will be reimbursed no matter what. But considering the huge volume of personal and financial data that most people place online, it's vital that consumers become more vigilant about protecting their digital footprints.”
Some 68 percent of those computer misuse incidents were virus related and the other 32 percent involved unauthorised access to a computer, including hacking.
John Flatley, who covers crime statistics and analysis at the Office for National Statistics, commented: "This is the first time we have published official estimates of fraud and computer misuse from our victimisation survey, and ONS is leading the world in doing this. Together, these offences are similar in magnitude to the existing headline figures covering all other crime survey offences.”
However, added Flatley, “It would be wrong to conclude that actual crime levels have doubled, since the survey previously did not cover these offences.”
That said, it does paint a very different picture of crime in the UK. Late last year, SC reported that notional statistics predicted cyber-crime to well overtake normal crime. This admission by the ONS not only vindicates that prediction, but goes further.
In October, the ONS predicted that cyber-crime topped out at 3.8 million incidents, or 40 percent of crime in the UK. The compacted figure of 5.8 million (total fraud and incidents of computer misuse) cannot be taken as entirely driven by cyber-crime in contrast to what some have suggested. But the more specified figure, taking into account that only half of fraud was considered cyber-enabled, overtakes the October prediction by 100,000 incidents.
The new stats may well throw the obscure but profoundly widespread spectre of cyber-crime into the light of day.
Robert Norris, director of enterprise and cyber-security in UK and Ireland at Fujitsu, said he “welcomes this news that the ONS will be including online crime moving forward, even if in the short term it means a steep increase”.
Norris told SC, “Daily there are news headlines reporting on the wealth of organisations that have fallen victim to a cyber-attack, something made worse by the fact that only 44 percent of companies have basic security processes in place.”
The new inclusion of cyber-related crimes comes as part of plans by the ONS “to improve the design, coverage and presentation of crime statistics in England and Wales over the next few years”.