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Is cyber-crime as big as offline crime?

A new survey from online security company Vest suggests that 88% of Britons now feel that cyber-crime is as great a threat as its more traditional physical counterparts.

But the most important finding from the survey for the corporate IT professional is that the public doesn’t think you’re doing enough; 76% of poll respondents were not satisfied with the efforts of governments and large organisations when it came to protecting data online.

A number of headline findings leap out as significant to the end user: 93% think cyber-crime is going to become more of a problem over the next ten years, while 83% think they’re covered because they have antivirus software. This actually takes no account of hacking, phishing and other fraud or attacks.

The risks at which people are putting themselves voluntarily are considerable. For example, 7% take no precautions online at all, and only 19% of respondents changed their passwords regularly or used an online password generator for safety.

The threat is real and does indeed appear to be growing. 26% of the respondents confirmed that they had been the victim of an attempted online scam in the last half decade, while in the same period 8% had suffered financial loss as a result of cyber-crime. A total of 11% had lost money in offline crime, so the difference in the dangers of the real world and the digital world is clearly becoming smaller Meanwhile, 16% of the adult population had fallen victim to a virus attack or some sort of hack and lost data or had it compromised; if this were replicated nationwide it would mean 7.84 million people losing information because of attackers.

Stuart Spice of Vest said: “The sheer scale of online crime, hacking and identity breaches globally and in the UK means most people are familiar with the key issues, even if many of us are not quite sure what to do about it.

“Large companies and government organisations are themselves unable to prevent hacks and online theft of both data and financial assets, so many individuals feel helpless against criminals online, with the threats often coming from beyond the UK. Anti-virus software can only go so far, so ensuring your internet connection is truly secure and following guidelines on matters such as rigid password security can make a huge difference to your online safety.”

One of the difficulties facing IT professionals trying to fight this sort of crime is that it’s an international problem.

The company carried out its research in March. All survey respondents were UK based internet users over the age of 18. This article by BT makes the incentive to the criminals very clear – it outlines the financial value of data to the criminals; it’s not that they’ll break into a bank account as such, but they’ll sell the stolen details in batches to people willing to take the chance that there might be some very rich pickings in there.