Computer Crime Research Center


Cybercrime costs billions

Date: April 28, 2005
By: Lucas van Grinsven

Cybercrime costs societies billions of euros every year, but it is not easy for European citizens to report that their digital identity has been stolen, according to anti-virus software companies and police.

Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) three weeks ago estimated the nation's cost of computer crime at 2.45 billion pounds a year. Yet common computer break-ins such as hacking, phishing and identity theft must be reported to the local police.

Britain's police offer online forms for citizens to report "non-emergency minor crimes" including theft, criminal vandalism and damage to motor vehicles, but there is no special category for computer crime.

Elsewhere in Europe, citizens are also mostly referred to local police forces to report these crimes.

"It really is a problem. These crimes are global, but citizens work with local police. Most of the police are trained to catch bank robbers rather than Internet robbers," said Mikko Hypponen at anti-virus company F-Secure in Finland, where citizens have to report to local police.

Dutch police have admitted that most are ill equipped to deal with cybercrime.

"Victims of high-tech crime experience this every day," wrote Pascal Hetzscholdt, policy adviser of the Dutch police's digital investigation unit, in a recent article for a police detectives magazine.

"When reporting a crime, they find that the police have big problems with taking and processing the technical aspects of the incident. Police and the public prosecution also have trouble estimating the importance," Hetzscholdt said.

Weak police skills lead to low interest, others say.

"The police are not interested, because there are too many viruses, the subject is too complicated and the chances are slim that the police will catch somebody," said senior technology consultant Graham Cluley at British anti-virus firm Sophos.

Without details from victims of computer crimes, furthermore, investigators and prosecutors find it more difficult to seek appropriate punishment for the offenders.

An NHTCU spokeswoman said every local police force in Britain had a computer crime unit, while recognising it was essential "we have to keep training to keep up with the pace".

British police said computer crimes need to be reported to local police but would be passed on to a specialised unit if needed.

To report unsolicited email, which for many office workers can run into the dozens or hundreds every day, British citizens need to download, print and fill in one form for every single spam message and send it in the mail.

"It's not grown-up at the moment," Sophos's Cluley said.

In the United States, in contrast with the European situation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at least operates a national Internet Fraud Complaint Center, to which businesses and citizens can report cybercrimes (
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