UK government refuses to educate public on cyber crime

Despite the rapidly growing cost of cyber crime to the UK economy, a lack of funding means that essential preventative measures to raise public awareness are totally out of reach.

Over the weekend, the Met Police Central e-Crime Unit claimed it managed to save the UK £140 million in the last six months.  This means, it says, it’s well on course to deliver a four year £504 million reduction in costs.

As part of the ACPO National e-Crime Programme (NeCP) £30 million was allocated to deal with the threat of cyber crime, such as distribution of malware, or internet fraud. 

Despite a good return on investment by the e-Crime Unit, £140 million is a mere drop in the ocean compared to what cyber crime actually costs the UK. 

In fact, the total four year target of £504 million is a tiny fraction of what cyber crime costs the country every year.

According to Cabinet Office figures released earlier this year, there is an enormous £27 billion lost to the economy every single year, a figure which the Office recognises is likely to grow.

This is an enormous sum of money to hand over to crooks, but it is notoriously difficult to stop a lucrative crime without borders. One effective tool, security experts agree, is education for the end user. 

TechEye approached the Home Office which highlighted its wish to tackle the cyber crime problem.

“We want to ensure that everyone can make the most of the internet and online services while protecting themselves from crime,” a spokesperson told us. 

“Government, law enforcement, industry and members of the public all have a role to play in preventing online crime and we welcome the significant difference being made by the Met Police Central e-Crime Unit.”

While much of the e-Crime Unit’s work is commendable, it too is working on a relatively small budget. There is little to doubt the fact that there must be more that can be done to reduce the drain on the UK’s struggling economy.

A lot of cyber crime could, however, be limited through preventative measures.  By raising the public’s awareness of tactics like phishing, or teaching an increasingly web-connected public to use complex passwords, life could be made much more difficult for criminals. Not to mention the simple task of keeping antivirus software patched and updated – something AVG has flagged recently.

In a recent discussion with TechEye, AVG CEO J R Smith talked about the memorable public service broadcast adverts we have in the UK – for example, the recent campaign to keep an eye out for motorcyclists on the road. He told us a campaign like that would make a difference to the safety of individual end-users, and as a result, the entire economy.

While there are various public awareness advertising campaigns on a variety of serious issues, there’s a distinct lack of direct public engagement on the serious topic of fraud online. It needs to be pushed into the wider public consciousness.

This, in turn, would inevitably reduce the amount of money which falls out of the economy and into the hands of criminals.

The Cabinet Office is aware of this. A spokesperson told us that the government “recognises that the threat from cyber attacks is real and growing”, and agrees that the public needs to be more aware of the issues.

“But the Government cannot tackle the problem alone,” we were told. “The public must take more responsibility for protecting themselves online and businesses must do more to help to protect their customers online.”

The Cabinet Office supports “raising awareness of cyber security through Get Safe Online” a partnership between the government and private sector as well as law enforcement agencies.

But, when we got in contact with Get Safe Online’s Managing Director Tony Neate, it was clear that despite the best efforts to use resources wisely, a substantial campaign to raise awareness was not a possibility.

“TV campaigns do make a difference,” Neate told us, “but we are limited by the amount of money we have.”

“Of course we would welcome more money being available,” he continued. “We don’t come anywhere near to the amount needed for an effective TV or magazine campaign, it is totally out of our powers to do this.”

Neate agreed that “prevention and awareness is better than coming up with a cure”, but ultimately it is down to money.

Clearly money is scarce in Whitehall, and in many government departments marketing budgets were the first expenditures to face the chop.

But, considering the amount of money that could be saved by tackling the problem at its root, an advertising campaign would surely be cost effective considering the staggering amounts lost each year.

Of course, if the Get Safe Online initiative is considered the government’s main tool to raise awareness, the situation is unlikely to change.

Although there was mention of a new Cyber Crime Strategy which will be published soon by the Cabinet Office, ultimately we were told that there are “no plans” for large scale campaigns.

So, while the Met Police e-Crime Unit may have made some inroads, for the foreseeable future it will be left to its own devices to deal with an overwhelming and increasingly costly mess.