More than half of UK citizens have fallen victim to online crime, according to a survey commissioned by public-private internet safety initiative Get Safe Online.
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The results of the survey, which polled just over 2,000 UK adults, were published to coincide with the Get Safe Online Week campaign, aimed at raising awareness about ways to defend against online crime.
Half of those who admitted they had been victims of online crime – such as fraud, identify theft, hacking and online abuse – said they felt “very” or “extremely” violated.
Get Safe Online revealed the top ten internet-enabled frauds in the past year cost the UK £670m, according to data from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB).
However, Get Safe Online said the true economic cost is much greater because a significant number of internet-enabled fraud cases still go unreported.
The Get Safe Online survey revealed that over half of the UK population now sees online crime as seriously as "physical world" crime.
Yet only 32% of victims reported the crime, while 47% of victims said they did not know how to report an online crime.
Get Safe Online said it expected this figure to drop with the ongoing work of Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, and the increased government resources dedicated to fighting cyber crime.
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Cyber security best practice
The survey found the negative experience of being targeted by cyber crime had the positive effect of changing the behaviour of 45% of victims, who opted for stronger passwords.
A similar proportion said they are now more vigilant when shopping online; 37% said they now log out of accounts when they go offline; and nearly a fifth have improved the security settings of their social media accounts.
But, in stark contrast, most people still do not have the most basic protection, the survey found.
More than half of mobile phone users and around a third of laptop owners said they did not use a password or passcode to protect their devices.
Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, said the UK cyber market is worth over £80bn a year, and undoubtedly a force for good.
“But we cannot stand still in the face of these threats, which already cost our economy billions every year,” Maude said.
As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, Maude said the goal is to make the UK one of the most secure places to do business in cyber space.
“We have a £860m Cyber Security Programme, which supports law enforcement’s response to cyber crime, and we are working with the private sector to help all businesses protect vital information assets.
“Cyber security is not an issue for government alone – we must all take action to defend ourselves against threats.”
Protect yourself from online crime
Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, said the survey showed the serious toll cyber crime can take – both financially and on well-being.
“Get Safe Online Week this year is all about ‘Don’t be a victim’ and we can all take simple steps to protect ourselves,” said Neate.
These steps include putting a password on computers and mobile devices; never clicking on a link sent by a stranger; using strong passwords; and always logging off from an account or website when done.
“The more the public do this – together with better conviction rates – the more criminals won’t be able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity,” said Neate.
Detective superintendent Pete O’Doherty, head of the City of London Police’s NFIB, said it is important people are aware of the dangers of fraud and internet-enabled fraud.
“I would also call on anyone who has fallen victim to an online fraud to report to Action Fraud," said O’Doherty.
“Only by doing this will local police forces be able to track down the main offenders and ensure victims receive the best possible support, as they try to recover from what can be an extremely difficult and upsetting experience.”
Education key to internet safety
George Anderson, director of product marketing at internet security firm Webroot, said the key to making the UK a safe internet user zone is education.
“As a country, as communities and as individuals, we should be actively promoting awareness of internet safety and security issues,” he said.
The government’s research should not scare people away from online activities, said Anderson, but rather start serious and continuous conversations to evaluate the online precautions people take at home and at work.
“Education should start young, with parents and education bodies working to ensure security-savvy future generations,” he said.
According to Anderson, understanding preventative measures ranges from a rudimentary awareness to in-depth, technical knowledge.
“However, far too many people have become too complacent with modern technology to even practice the basics,” he said.
He said everyone should understand the need to protect computers by updated, best-of-breed antispyware and antivirus software; practice safe browsing; and understand what online activities put their information more at risk than others.
Everyone should be able to identify and understand website privacy policies, he said, and know when not to give out personal data.