Britain is losing the war on cyber crime as cyber-criminals in 25 countries have chosen the UK as their number one target, a report by the Home Affairs Select Committee claims.

Cyber crime
Britain is not winning the war on cyber crime, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee claim. (Credit: Reuters)

Chaired by Labour MP Keith Vaz, the cross-party committee published findings of a 10-month inquiry into cyber crime in the UK and has outlined plans for change, including the need for a "dedicated state-of-the-art espionage response team" which could be called upon by British companies, media and institutions in the event of an attack.

"We are not winning the war on online criminal activity," the Labour MP for Leicester East said. "We are being too complacent about these E-wars because the victims are hidden in cyberspace. The threat of a cyber attack to the UK is so serious it is marked as a higher threat than a nuclear attack.

"You can steal more on the internet than you can by robbing a bank and online criminals in 25 countries have chosen the UK as their number one target. Astonishingly, some are operating from EU countries. If we don't have a 21st century response to this 21st century crime, we will be letting those involved in these gangs off the hook."

Black hole

The committee warned of a "black hole" where some cyber crimes are committed without punishment, citing the process by which banks reimburse victims of fraud but rarely report such crimes to the authorities; banks should be required to report all e-crime fraud to law enforcement, the committee stated.

The report echoes comments made by Commissioner Adrian Leppard, head of City of London police, who said in December, 2012 that the UK was not winning the battle against cyber crime.

"We are not winning. I do not think we are winning globally, and I think this nature of crime is rising exponentially," Leppard said, adding: "This is a very worrying criminal trend. The real worry is that, at a time when fraud and e-crime is going up, the capability of the country is going down."

Made up of 11 MPs from the three major parties, the committee said it was "surprised" to learn that hackers from the Anonymous collective were given sentences of between seven and 18 months for their role in attacks which cost Paypal £3.5m.

It was suggested in the report that the director of public prosecutions (DPP), "should review the sentencing guidance and ensure e-criminals receive the same sentences as if they had stolen that amount of money or data offline".

Deeply concerned

Moving its report away from fraud, the committee also said it was "deeply concerned that it was still too easy for people to access inappropriate online content, particularly indecent images of children, terrorism incitement and sites informing people how to commit online crimes".

The committee also recommended that the government "should draw up a mandatory code of conduct with internet companies to remove material which breaches acceptable behavioural standards."

Responding to the report, chieft technology officer from security firm Performanta Lior Arbel said businesses need to do more now rather than waiting:

Businesses in particular must be proactive and deal with the threat of critical data loss right now at a technological level in order to protect themselves and their employees. With the government proposing that up to a quarter of the UK's 800 specialist internet crime officers could be lost due to budget cuts and 78% of large organisations in the UK attacked by an unauthorised outsider in the past year, every business needs to step up in the battle against cyber espionage."

Darren Anstee, from Arbor Networks, believes that the opportunities provided by the growth of the internet, have also brought with it serious problems for businesses:
"The Internet has provided many businesses and our broader economy with significant growth opportunity - unfortunately criminals can also exploit this opportunity. Any organisation operating online in the UK is a potential target, and it was recently reported by the GCHQ that the UK faces at least 70 sophisticated cyber-attacks a month. To stay on top of this authorities in the UK must look to develop a cohesive strategy for dealing with cyber-crime."