British businesses are under siege by criminals and vandals using technology for financial gain or to cause havoc.
Hi-tech crime is fashionable among criminals
A survey by the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit found 83% of UK companies have been the victims of computer crime.
The vast majority, 77%, were virus attacks and, on average, companies face 254 assaults from malicious programs every year.
Other computer crimes reported in the study included fraud, theft of key data and denial-of-service attacks.
The survey was unveiled at the second E-Crime Congress in London.
In addition to business fraud, the crime unit's head DCS Len Hynds, said he was determined to clean up sex sites promoting cannibalism and necrophilia.
"I can't walk down the High Street and have banner advertisements that come up to promote cannibalism but why tolerate that online?"
He told the conference that some companies are being hit by "multi-million pound losses" as a result of hi-tech crime.
"Whilst it is too early to put an accurate figure on the total financial impact for UK business all the indicators suggest that we are talking about billions rather than millions," he said.
The cost of dealing with attacks over the last year by disinfecting computers, investigating who has committed crimes and securing networks and machines was put by survey respondents at £195m.
Although viruses caused more businesses problems, it was fraud that cost firms the most money.
Virus attacks: 77%
Denial of service: 20%
Financial fraud: 17%
System penetration: 11%
Criminal use of the net: 17%
Corporate site spoofing:15%
Source: NHTCU Hi-Tech Crime Survey
Cleaning up after a virus attack cost UK firms about £27.8m but financial fraud drained company coffers of £121m, according to the survey.
Much of this figure was made up of two cases of fraud in which firms lost £60m.
Many companies responding in the survey, 20%, said they had been the subject of a denial-of-service attack that bombarded their website with enormous amounts of data.
Others had corporate websites spoofed by thieves seeking to trick customers into revealing key details.
The study also found that larger firms were more likely to have an in-house team that has been set up to deal with any serious hi-tech crime incidents.
Almost one-third of those questioned have no formal team ready to tackle computer crimes.
On the virus front, many of the malicious programs in circulation now are being put to specifically criminal intent. Few are simply nuisance programs despatched simply to inconvenience.
COST OF HI-TECH CRIME
Financial fraud: £121m
Virus attacks: £27.8m
Criminal use of the net: £23m
Theft of data: £6.6m
Corporate site spoofing: £4.8m
Denial of service: £1.3m
Source: NHTCU Hi-Tech Crime Survey
Up to 30% of the spam or junk e-mail that travels the net is thought to be relayed by hijacked home computers that have been compromised by viruses and which are under the control of anyone who takes the time to search for them.
The E-Crime Congress is organised around the theme of "Designing out Hi-Tech crime" and aims to get businesses, security firms and police collaborating more closely to share information about crimes, criminals and prevention techniques.
Up to 400 delegates are expected to attend the summit from law enforcement organisations, computer security firms, data forensics outfits, consumer groups and big business.
Speakers include Len Hynds, head of the NHTCU; Bill Hughes, head of the National Crime Squad; Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Tim Wright who heads the Home Office's Hi-Tech crime section.
Have you been a victim of computer crime? How much time do you spend fighting off virus attacks on your computer? Send us your stories.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I work for a private bank and we get the occasional hack attempt but not much more than you get with a normal adsl connection. Our biggest problem isn't hackers or indeed anyone specific targeting our company, it's the mound of viruses that are sent all over the public domain. Working in IT is a real pain because we can control the virus scanners on our own site yet still get called by the people in our work panicking because Norton has picked up the virus in one of their e-mails so i spend quite a lot of time explaining to people that if Norton found the virus and disallowed access then there is no problem.
Jamie Ferguson, Edinburgh
Only careless people have virus problems; I run a company with several computers and have never had a virus, not even on Windows. Spam is a much bigger problem with more and more of it getting through filters. Even worse is when spammers use your email address in the 'From' field so it looks like you are sending spam.
How can you seriously declare virus attacks as high-tech crime? Companies that fall over virus attacks are just not ready to use computers properly. Of course Microsoft has to take the blame: monopolising the market with weak products, not educating users properly etc. etc. Just because we like to keep people stupid and uneducated. Why not hold *free* seminars for companies, especially SMEs, how to prevent virus attacks to do harm -- e.g. by not using Microsoft products at all? The world could be such a better place ... (sigh)
Dr Peter Troxler, Aberdeen, Scotland
Personally I don't trust email or the web or send messages to my wife, let alone bank or other details. When will the public stop jumping on the [e] bandwagon, and believing big business that everything is secure. After almost 10 years online I still can't quite believe the hype and don't trust anything to do with online ecommerce.
Hagbard Celine, Brighton UK
There is no excuse for users in the workplace to be troubled by spam or viruses. Our mail server filters out both before they ever reach a user. Only the occasional spam gets through. It's our own product, but there are several others on the market aimed at all levels from the small business to the large enterprise.
Julian Moss, Cockermouth, UK
I don't know anyone who's been a victim of an electronic assault, either personally or as a company... perhaps this is the Hi Tech Crime unit justifying its existence a little? Like the AV firms telling us how bad MyDoom was? Not that anyone mentioned has a vested interest. Of course.
Joe Whiteley, Manchester UK
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