Cybercrime costs $338bn to global economy; More lucrative than drugs trade

Summary:Cybercrime is costing more than the drugs trade, according to new research by Symantec. But this criminologist argues that some crime cannot be measured in financial losses.

Source: Symantec

Norton reports that cybercrime is costing the global economy $338 billion a year, overtaking a still a lucrative trade in the underground drugs market.

For every second that goes by, 19 people worldwide fall victim to some form of online crime, most commonly social network hacking and credit card fraud.

The Norton Cybercrime Report 2011 outlines the cost of cybercrime worldwide, with 74 million in the United States alone falling victim to online scams, phishing attacks and exploitative malware; costing the U.S. economy an estimated $32 billion.

But the report suggests that more than 69 percent, at two-thirds of online adults, have fallen victim to cybecrime; a figure that is still on the rise.

Symantec, the anti-virus maker who issued the report, noted that it takes U.S. authorities nearly twice as long to resolve cybercrime than its British counterparts.

Though still in the minority, the report found that there is an increasing number of mobile device victims, as reports show that vulnerabilities in mobile operating systems have risen from 115 in 2009 to 163 a year later.

89 percent of respondents to the research say that "more needs to be done to bring cyber-criminals to justice". But from a criminological point of view, the justice system barely gets a foot in the door.

Law enforcement across sovereign boundaries is hampering the efforts in bringing those to appear before the courts.

The drugs market is an interesting one to pin the figures to. Twenty or thirty years ago, the global drugs trade was at its peak. Nowadays, the paradigm shift completes to the online world, where cybercrime is not only more prevalent in practice, but affects a far greater number of people.

Whether this means it's easier to catch a virus or have your credit card swiped, than it is to score on the street corner, there is little to go by in terms of specifics.

But one of the reasons why the online cybercrime market is far more lucrative than the drugs trade -- at least in this example -- falls down to jurisdictional boundaries; something the online world is yet to fully comprehend or even catch up with in terms of firm legislation.

Back in the day when the drugs trade relied on crossing international borders, the police and border units were ready for it, setting up intelligence sharing capabilities and extradition treaties. But as cybercrime is inherently difficult to trace the roots of, particularly sourcing malware authors and botnet controllers, global law enforcement is still struggling to catch up with a game they are still only learning the rules to.

Data theft alone is an immeasurable crime, hitting people more personally than financially, in many cases. It may fall down to a social networking breach or the old fashioned identity theft; the losses cannot be weighed in dollars or economic losses because data is an invaluable resource and commodity in the modern world.

And, with more devices rolling off the manufacturing line into the shops, there is a far greater scope and points of penetration than before. Along with the still developing NFC technology to allow cashless payments under a certain limit, mobile devices are increasingly becoming our mobile wallets, for applications and games, music and video content.

While I may not personally agree with the drugs trade analogy that so many others are reporting with, this modern day sphere of crime is highly comparable to the drugs trade thirty-odd years ago.

Topics: Security, Data Centers, Legal

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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