Cybercrime study reveals rise in incidents during COVID-19 pandemic

A new study has discovered that cybercrime has been significantly exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the need for more robust cybersecurity.

The investigation, conducted by cybercrime experts from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) and Flinders University, involved around 12,000 Australians and found that one-third of the adult population had been victims of pure cybercrime in their lifetime. Additionally, a further 14% reported a disruption to network systems within the last year, indicating an increase in frequency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around the world, cybercrime amounts to trillions of Australian dollars lost by the public, businesses, and even governmental organisations, with the experts stating that most of the crimes involved substantial levels of personal victimisation. The majority of the financial damages were direct losses, with significant money also spent preventing future attacks, such as enhancing cybersecurity.

A pandemic of online crime

A 2019 study into the financial cost of pure cybercrime signified that pre-COVID-19, there was an approximate total economic hit of $3.5bn, consisting of $1.4bn spent on prevention costs, $1.9bn directly lost by victims, and $597m in dealing with the effects of victimisation.

In cybercrime incidents, only a tiny fraction of the financial losses are recovered by victims – with the study finding that only $389m was recuperated, which barely covers the costs instigated by the cybercrime. Furthermore, the novel research indicated that roughly 2.8 million Australians had fallen victim to cybercrime during the pandemic, a substantial increase in the standard rate, as only 6.7 million Australian adults have experienced cybercrime during their entire life.

What is pure cybercrime?

Pure cybercrime is the term that encompasses criminal activities against machines and networks such as hacking, disseminating viruses and malware, and distributed denial-of-service attacks. Estimates suggest that other types of cyber-enabled identity crime cost the Australian public, government agencies, and businesses an additional $3bn in annual losses. The experts believe that COVID-19-related economic disruptions have created the ideal conditions for opportunistic, fraudulent online activities.

Russel Smith, a professor at Flinders University, said: “Pure cybercrime is a highly profitable criminal activity and results in substantial financial losses to Australians. On current information, as cybercriminals become more sophisticated, it’s clear the need for additional expenditure on prevention will need to increase.

“Equally, it is imperative that the financial harms associated with cybercrime are assessed so that resources for prevention and response activities can be targeted most effectively, and a baseline can be developed against which to measure the impact of future policy responses.”

Cyber-enabled identity crime

An identity crime investigation conducted between 2018 and 2019 revealed a financial loss of $3.1 bn to the state and territory agencies (including the police), commonwealth entities, and individuals and businesses, most of which was caused by cyber-enabled identity crime. These cyber-enabled crimes utilise technology that makes traditional crimes such as fraud, stalking, harassment, and identity theft far easier for criminals to commit while mitigating chances of being caught.

Coen Teunissen, the lead author of the study, said: “Cybercrime is a growing, borderless and continually evolving body of crimes which can threaten individuals, businesses, government and national security. This study represents the first large-scale Australian study of pure cybercrime prevalence and financial harm.

“Importantly, this is a conservative estimate, as many victims were unable to report how much they had lost or how much they had spent dealing with the consequences of cybercrime. This also excludes the cost to business and government from pure cybercrime.”

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