Britain is too complacent about the war against internet crime, which it is losing, a committee of MPs said on Tuesday.
In a wide-ranging report, the Commons home affairs committee said that internet crime, or e-crime, is now more valuable than the drugs industry; that sentences are too low; and that a “black hole” in the system allowed minor e-crime to be committed with impunity.
The MPs said the police should be given more training and resources to deal with the problem, and that a state-of-the-art espionage response team should be set up to help companies respond to cyber-attacks.
Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “We are not winning the war on online criminal activity. 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 No 1 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.”
During its 10-month inquiry the committee heard evidence from the online security firm Norton putting the annual global cost of e-crime at an estimated $388bn (£250bn). By comparison, the annual value of the global trade in heroin, cocaine and marijuana is estimated at $288bn.
The MPs were told that the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau had discovered about 25 countries where criminals were predominantly targeting Britain and they said they were “deeply concerned” that EU partner countries are not doing enough to prevent these cyber-attacks.
They said they were particularly worried about the “black hole” that allowed e-criminals to get away without being caught.
“Online criminal activity which defrauds victims of money is often not reported to or investigated by law enforcement,” they said.
“Banks simply reimburse the victims with no pursuit of the perpetrators. Criminals who commit a high volume of low-level fraud can still make huge profits. Banks must be required to report all e-crime fraud to law enforcement.”
On sentencing, the committee said it was “surprised” to learn that hackers from the group Anonymous, who cost Paypal more than £3.5m, were given sentences of seven and 18 months.
The MPs said they did not believe the hackers would have received such sentences had they physically robbed a bank of £3.5m and they said the director of public prosecutions should review sentencing guidelines.
Steve Williams, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “This report highlights how the government message that its reforms are working because crime is falling is one which is over-simplistic and misleading.
“Crime is clearly changing, not falling at the rate the figures suggest, and an unknown but extremely high number of offences are going unreported. The police service needs greater, not fewer, resources to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.”
Author: Andrew Sparrow, political correspondent
Source: The Guardian