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10 September 2007, 15:39

Harassment dominates cybercrime

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A new statistical analysis of cybercrime data for 2006 by Stefan Fafinski of 1871, a UK socio-legal research company, identified around 3.9 million crimes, almost exactly half of which fall into the category of harassment.

The reseach draws data from numerous sources to create an overview of the relative significance of a range of threats to internet users. Threats discussed include fraud, identity abuse, computer misuse and web harassment and sexual offences. Right up front, the author emphasises the point made recently by the UK House of Lords that cybercrime is ill-defined. Equally, it is difficult to monitor and the distinction between on-line and off-line offences is frequently blurred by poor record keeping. However, the researchers have apparently taken some care to extract a trustworthy overall picture by cross-referencing multiple sources.

The harassment category includes direct on-line abuse or threats, "hate crimes" and defamation. Excluding harassment from the data, however, credit card dominates the remaining landscape at 72 per cent of the remaining 1.9 million crimes. An additional finding that only 4.5 per cent were reported to the Police gives cause for concern.

Computer misuse comes second at 16.6 per cent, with slightly more staff perpetrators (9.2 per cent) than external attackers (7.4 per cent). Identity crime comes quite far behind, although the report indicates that it is often difficult to distinguish between on-line and off-line ID fraud. On the general basis that about 40 per cent of ID fraud is on-line, it represents just over two per cent of the sample.

The final category discussed, sexual offences, is less well documented. However, the report suggests that there were around 850,000 "unwanted online sexual approaches" in 2006, which resulted in 238 grooming offences being recorded.

One of the most useful contributions of this report is its definitions section, particularly the definitions of identity theft and identity fraud, which show that, despite the UK legal definition of theft, the former is indeed possible if the identity of a (typically deceased) person is taken over entirely and one's previous identity is abandoned. This is likely to become an increasingly significant issue if a national identity register becomes the primary reference point for determining who a citizen is.

The report was commissioned by online identity services company Garlik, from whose web site it can be downloaded.

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