Think cyber crime is something only found in fiction? Think again, because online crime is a very real threat in our Internet-connected society. With 1.5 million annual cyber attacks, online crime is a real threat to anyone on the Internet. That number means there are over 4,000 cyber attacks every day, 170 attacks every hour, or nearly three attacks every minute.
When you look at number of attacks specifically targeting businesses, they're also worrying: IBM estimates businesses are attacked an average of 16,856 times a year. That's 46 attacks every business has to deal with every day — or nearly two attacks an hour. Though the vast majority of these attacks don’t actually get past a corporation's defenses, an average of 1.7 per week are successful. When you add that up across all businesses, that's a lot of successful cyber attacks.
Should we be worried about these attacks when many hackers target businesses and governments instead of individuals? The answer is a definitive yes: because these big organizations hold caches of individual information (which is useful for identity theft and other crimes), they make tempting targets for cyber criminals.
In 2014, 47% of American adults had their personal information stolen by hackers — primarily through data breaches at large companies. In 2013, 43% of companies had a data breach in which hackers got into their systems to steal information. Data breaches targeting consumer information are on the rise, increasing 62% from 2012 to 2013, with 594% more identities stolen. That added up to a staggering total of $18,000,000,000 in credit card fraud for the year.
Though it's hard to gauge how much cybercrime actually costs us, Mcafee estimates that the annual global cost of such crime could be over $400 billion. That's the equivalent of the biggest bank robbery in history — 2003's nearly $1 billion take from the Central Bank of Iraq — if it were pulled off more than once a day.
In 2013, 7% of US organizations lost $1 million or more as a result of cyber crime, while 19% of US organizations reported losses of $50,000 or more.
On a slightly smaller scale, cyber crime reported to the FBI in 2013 totaled losses of over $781 million, with an average loss of nearly $3,000 per complaint. That includes:
- $81 million taken by romance scammers, who target people on online dating sites, feigning love and then asking for money — averaging more than $12,000 per victim.
- $51 million taken by auto scammers, who convince their targets to pay for cars that don't exist — raking in an average of $3,600 per victim.
- $18 million in real estate rental scams which, like auto scams, attempt to convince buyers to pay for property that doesn't exist — to the tune of nearly $1,800 per victim.
- $6 million taken by FBI scammers, who pretend to be government officials to intimidate and extort money — averaging nearly $700 per victim.
Everyone online is potentially at risk of cybercrime: in fact, you're probably more likely to have your email account hacked than your home broken into. A global study by the UN finds digital theft affects between 1 and 17% of the online population, while physical crime rates are below 5%.
And if you think these numbers sound high, you should be worried that they could actually be even higher: many of these stats are based incidents investigated by law enforcement or security firms. 80% or more of cyber crimes go unreported due to lack of awareness of the crime or the ability to report it, embarrassment on the part of individuals, or fear of consumer backlash on the part of businesses.
So just why are these crimes so prevalent — and so hard to fight? Globally, laws restricting digital crime vary. As much as 70% of cyber crime crosses national borders, which can make solving cyber crimes a problem that has to be tackled through international cooperation — and with the UN reporting that a third to half of all nations have insufficient legal framework to criminalize extraterritorial cyber crimes, it can be difficult for law enforcement to bring these criminals to justice.
As the digital frontier continues to evolve, it's hard to say what's next for cyber crime — but as more people jump on the Internet, the threats faced are only likely to grow.
Want to see tech-savvy heroes take on this menace? Tune in for the CSI: Cyber premiere on CBS Wednesday, March 4 at 10/9c!