Online security 'vital for economy'

Updated: 

PA

Not protecting yourself online is so irresponsible that it could damage the entire UK economy in the long term as our ideas are stolen and taken elsewhere, according to security experts discussing a new report on cybercrime.

The report, which looks at combating criminals who use the web to steal from others, says that cybercrime is now such big business that it is worth more than some nations.

Cybercrime as a business would be ranked 27th in the world based on revenue, and the crime is currently costing the world more than 400 billion US dollars (£238bn) a year, equal to more than 0.5% of the world's total gross domestic product (GDP).

Security experts, including from EU law enforcement agency Europol and Nato, have been discussing the report, which was commissioned by online security experts McAfee, and what more needs to be done to stop the increasing amount of web attacks. They say the big problem remains a lack of understanding among the public about different threats that exist.

Raj Samani, the chief technical officer of McAfee in Europe and a special adviser to Europol, said: "I've got young children, and I know that I can't be there every time they cross the road. What I can do is teach them the dangers of crossing the road and hope that they can protect themselves. Technology does play a part, but the user plays a part as well.

"Last year I wrote a piece for a newspaper and I wrote about how I went to a shopping centre, and there were people giving away chocolate in exchange for your personal data. The queue was 40 people deep. I said 'why are you giving up your data for a piece of chocolate? Do you not realise it has more value?'

"It's not just the technology, it's understanding the value of the data you have, it's making sure that you monitor what your children do online."

Mr Samani revealed as part of the report that there were 20 to 30 cybercrime groups that were operating on a "nation-state level", meaning that they are working on an industrial scale, and overcome almost any sort of web defence they face.

"We want the economy to grow, and it's being held back by cybercrime, and actually if you're not taking measures to protect yourself you're contributing to our economy not growing. If you're not taking important measures you're contributing to criminals, and I mean nasty criminals, making money off you. Not taking action is resulting in people losing their jobs," he said.

"Ideas are the currency of the digital age and our ideas are being stolen. Do you want the next Facebook to be out of London and Silicon Roundabout? It won't be if we don't protect our data because they'll steal it and run it somewhere else.

"This is important: it's the future of economic growth in this country. It's so important that people understand. We're not talking about viruses, we're talking about protecting yourself and preserving your livelihood."

Operation Tovar, which disrupted the viruses that led to the National Crime Agency issuing a two-week alert last week, has been highlighted as an example of the sort of global collaboration that needs to occur more often, and be as widely reported in order to help users better understand the threat, and the value of their data.

Paul Gillen, from Europol, said that this operation, which involved officers from the US, the UK and around the world, was the perfect example of the collaboration that is needed to take on cyber criminals.

"No single law enforcement agency can get an instant result on their own. We have to work in partnerships and Operation Tovar was a great example of this with the pooling of resources and ideas.
This is not the end of the war however. The war goes on," he said.

The report found that more than 200,000 jobs had been lost as a result of cybercrime - through reputation damage or loss of assets. The news comes in the wake of continued efforts to improve web security before the "two-week threat" elapses, and two viruses that have infected thousands of computers are active again.

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