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October 22, 2018

Cyber Crime Has Tumbled 30%, says ONS – But Has It?

But how many people in the UK are the unwitting victims of attacks that they would rather not disclose?

By jonathan chadwick

Cybercrime is down 30 percent in England and Wales, according to a new report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

According to the ONS’s annual Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), there were 1.1 million estimated instances of computer misuse for the year ending June 30 2018, down from 1.6 million for the corresponding period a year prior.

The ONS cyber survey said the largest change in the volume of incidents across all crime types was seen in computer misuse offences, which was driven by a 43 percent decrease in complaints of computer viruses.

Computer virus incidents, meanwhile, stood at 606,000, down from 1.1 million, while unauthorised access to personal info fell from 535,000 to 515,000 incidents.

The survey only offers two definitions of computer misuse: “Computer virus” and “unauthorised access to personal information (including hacking)”.

CSEW Stats “Limited”

The CSEW polls around 500,000 citizens on crimes experienced in the past year, in an attempt to provide alternative and more accurate statistics than reported crimes.

Computer misuse that was referred to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau by Action Fraud, the UK’s cybercrime reporting centre meanwhile increased by 4 percent to 21,947 offences, according to the ONS.

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However, Action Fraud data on computer misuse represents “a small fraction of all computer misuse crimes”, as many incidents are not reported, the report admits.

It’s one of the reasons why Mark Nicholls from cybersecurity company Redscan thinks the ONS survey figures “must be taken with a large pinch of salt”.

ONS Survey Not Capturing Crime?

“In many cases, criminal activities such as phishing are difficult to identify – people can be unaware they have been victimised,” he said. “Cryptomining attacks, where criminals steal the processing power of computers to harvest cryptocurrency, are also being increasingly hard for people to detect.”

Hackers are also likely to have changed tactics to avoid detection, he said.

The statistics also focus on households and don’t include offences committed against businesses, he said – which can go on to directly affect citizens, as shown by the recent breaches at Facebook and British Airways.ONS survey

As well as this, millions of UK citizens who are cyber-compromised are unaware of being targeted, while those that are aware may not consider themselves victims of crime. Those who do could be too embarrassed to reveal as much to the ONS.

“How many people in the UK are the unwitting victims of attacks that they would rather not disclose – such as those claiming to release highly personal images and information,” Nicholls said.

“The CSEW stats are also limited by the fact that victims of online fraud, especially very elderly and vulnerable victims who may have suffered significant financial losses, may not have the confidence to allow an interviewer into their home to conduct an interview.”

Read more: The 5 Most Commonly Used Hacking Tools – and How to Defend Against Them

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