WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- Cybercrime has spread globally and resembles an industry with double-digit growth over the past year, industry data indicated.
Estimates of losses to the U.S. economy and society vary but increasingly sophisticated cybercrime consistently targets the government, corporations and individuals.
About 90 percent of U.S. companies that responded to a Computer Security Institute survey said they had detected computer security breaches and 74 percent acknowledged financial losses as a result of the breaches of security.
More than 270 U.S. organizations quantified their financial losses for a total of $265 million. Analysts said the actual costs could be much higher.
In the United Kingdom, the latest cybercrime cost estimates released by the Cabinet Office showed annual losses of more than $43 billion.
Computer media reported that, while a global recession lingers, cybercrime is one industry that has shown double-digit growth for several consecutive years.
"There was a time, as recently as the 1990s, when most of those who hacked into systems illegally or launched attacks on networks or Web sites were tech-savvy males in their teens or 20s. They did it for fun, for the challenge, as a learning experience, and/or to prove to their buddies that they could," technology writer Deb Shinder wrote in a techrepublic.com blog.
"Today's cybercriminals tend to be older, shrewder, and more often motivated by money. And they don't even need to be talented coders to make big profits."
Shinder cited a Panda Labs report that malicious software could be bought, if not freely downloaded, "to make big bucks stealing credit card numbers and other personal information."
Shinder said as cybercrime has become more profit-driven, its "business model" has evolved, giving rise to new types of criminal activities and new twists on the old types.
Analysts noted a shift from Windows-based computers to other operating systems and platforms, including smart phones, tablet computers and mobile platforms in general.
This fits in with findings of other companies, Shinder wrote.
"Trend Micro predicted that the growing use of mobile devices would help make 2011 a very profitable year for cybercriminals," she said.
"The increasing popularity of smart phones and tablets means more and more people are carrying miniature computers with them everywhere they go and using them for more of their daily tasks -- including financial transactions.
"Yet, many people who wouldn't think of running their desktop PCs without antivirus and anti-malware software neglect to protect their phones and tablets in a similar manner, despite the fact that there are many mobile security products now available for all the popular platforms."
McAfee's Fourth Quarter 2010 Threats Report said mobile malware increased by 46 percent from 2009 to 2010.
Further concerns were expressed by industry analysts over the gradual move toward cloud computing that raised the prospect of making cybercrime easier to accomplish as more data are stored away from government or corporate offices in a cloud computing hub.
Information intelligence experts at Detica, which collaborated on the British government report with the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance in the Cabinet Office, said the real impact of cybercrime was likely to be much greater than that estimated.
The report said most of the cybercrime costs were being shouldered by business.
"With society now almost entirely dependent on cyberspace, developing effective strategies to tackle cybercrime requires a better understanding of its impact," said the report. "Its breadth and scale have been notoriously difficult to understand and past attempts to set cybercrime policy or develop strategies have been hampered by a real lack of insight into the problem."
The report said more than three-quarters of the economic impact of cybercrime in Britain is felt by business. "In all probability, and in line with worst-case scenarios, the real impact of cybercrime is likely to be much greater," it said.