Cyber crime is rapidly rising and experts warn it is reaching epidemic levels as criminals use the Internet as a tool for a multitude of fraudulent activities.
ActionFraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, says around 70 per cent of fraud is cyber enabled - but says the number of reported cyber crimes are only the tip of the iceberg.
Cyber crime is any criminal act dealing with computers and networks through hacking. Cyber crime also includes traditional crimes conducted through the Internet.
Det Ch Insp Andrew Fyfe, head of crime at the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau which sits alongside Action Fraud within the City of London Police, the national policing lead for fraud and the cyber crime reporting centre, said: “We are the central reporting point for all fraud and cybercrime for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“But what we see are reports to law enforcement and are very conscious that what people choose to report and what actually occurs can be vastly different - and that is very true of cyber crime.
“Fraud and cybercrime is the most prevalent type of crime in the country. In that sense, it is the most harmful and problematic crime there is.
“But there is no law that people have to report a crime when they suffer it. If a bank suffered a £1m robbery after having their safe blown open, technically, they would not be obliged to report that to the police.
“This is one of the reasons why we don’t see anything like a fraction of the cyber crimes that are actually committed.
“With businesses, it is all about reputation with online banking, one bank is not going to want to admit they are more likely to be subjected to cyber attacks.
“Many larger organisations have their own capabilities to deal with these types of attacks and often have their own internal investigations team and corporate lawyers engaging with insurers.
“They don’t always think they need the assistance of law enforcement. I think there is a real lack of understanding about how much we can do.
“In the last three years, policing has really upped its game in its capability and responsiveness to cyber attacks.
“We appeal to organisations to report cyber crimes to us as there is a real value to having that intelligence and understanding the threats being experienced. Often, many of these attacks will be replicated elsewhere.
“With big businesses, when they suffer a cyber attack, it is not just them who are affected but there are likely to be data breaches of their system and potentially there can be several million people affected.”
Prof Awais Rashid, Lancaster University’s top academic on cyber security and co-director of the Security Lancaster Institute, said: “The Internet allows us to organise our lives and keep in touch with people.
“But at the same time, it also allows criminals new ways to access victims and new ways to organise themselves.
“Some criminals are very tech savvy and will use a lot of technologies to hide their activities.
“It is a cat and mouse game - criminals keep coming up with new ways to hide their activities and law enforcement have to come up with legal ways of uncovering them and protecting the public.”
Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashire’s Cybercrime Research Unit, said: “We see the Internet as the fastest growing place for crime and deviance today.
“Even though there is a lot of work going on to tackle cyber crime, some cyber criminals are so skilful, you need running shoes to keep up with them.”