Cyber crime gathers pace, whereas number of UK hacking prosecutions declines – RPC data show

Maria Nikolova

The number of prosecutions concerning unauthorised access to computer material, fell 18% year on year to 47 in 2017, according to RPC.

Although risks related to cyber crime have become more acute nowadays, the number of hacking prosecutions in the UK has dropped, according to City-headquartered professional services firm RPC.

The latest RPC data show that the number of prosecutions under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act in 2017, which covers unauthorised access to computer material, dropped 18% year on year, to 47 in 2017, compared to 57 in 2016. To put the numbers in some perspective, let’s note that data from the Office for National Statistics, indicate that there were an estimated 1.7 million cyber-related crimes in the UK in 2017.

RPC attributes the low levels of prosecutions in this area to the fact that the police do not have the resource to tackle the problem effectively as cybercrime has become widespread and more complex. Many of the hackers targeting the UK are based overseas, in areas like the Baltic states, Russia and China, which makes it far more difficult for the UK police to prosecute them. Encryption and routing through proxies are often used to mask hackers’ identity and location, adding to the complexity.

Let’s recall that in October last year, the UK government voiced its concerns about the role of digital currencies for enabling cyber crime. Those concerns were highlighted in a report entitled “National risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing 2017”.

This role of digital currencies is apparent in three areas, the report said:

  • Digital currencies often facilitate victim payments to cyber criminals. This includes malware attacks such as ransomware, and cyber crimes-as-an-extortion, in which victim ransom payments are predominantly requested to be paid in Bitcoin.
  • Digital currencies boost the growth of cyber crime-as-a-service. They constitute the primary method of payment for criminal-to-criminal payments and for the purchase of illicit tools or services sold online in the cyber criminal marketplace.
  • Digital currencies play a vital role in laundering the proceeds of cyber-dependent crime, directly facilitating cyber criminal financial flows.

The report also referred to an analysis of suspicious activity reports (SARs) submitted between May 2016 and July 2017. The analysis showed 1,584 of these reports referred to digital currencies, with the number of reports increasing month-on-month. Of these SARs, a number indicated that the suspicion was raised because of the involvement of digital currencies, rather than any suspicion of money laundering or terrorist financing.

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