The first major UK study into victims of computer misuse crime has exposed the serious harm some victim’s experience, as well as barriers to reporting such offences, receiving support, achieving justice and the precarious resources dedicated by the police to cybercrime.
Changes throughout the entire system are being recommended to better serve the needs of victims, and help protect others in the future. These include changing the name of Action Fraud, reforming websites offering support, better training for police staff working with victims and dedicating more permanent resources in the police to fighting this crime, among many others.
Researchers at the University of Portsmouth were commissioned by the Home Office and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services to assess the nature and impact of crime related to misuse of computers, and the support provided to those affected by it. They interviewed 52 victims of computer misuse and conducted a survey of 252 victims.
We also found some victims struggling to report these crimes
Computer misuse crime is a legal term relating to unauthorised access to computers, data or networks, which can involve; hacking, intentional virus infections, denial of service attacks and ransomware. In the year ending 2018 it accounted for 9 per cent of all reported crime in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
Professor Mark Button is Director of the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth. He has led the team of academics who have interviewed victims and compiled the report and recommendations.
He said: “There has been a perception that cyber-crimes don’t have as bad an impact as some physical crimes, but this report shows that computer misuse crime has similar, and in some cases a worse impact, than comparable traditional crimes such as burglary. We found victims who compared the cyber attacks to physical assaults, some rape and some contemplating suicide as a consequence. ” He went on: “We also found some victims struggling to report these crimes, with for example one woman whose laptop camera had been hacked by criminals dismissed by the police and another lady whose estranged husband hacked her computer, to secure advantage in divorce negotiations, told it was not a crime.”
There has been a perception that cyber-crimes don’t have as bad an impact as some physical crimes, but this report shows that computer misuse crime has similar, and in some cases a worse impact, than comparable traditional crimes such as burglary
Researchers found poor classification of Computer misuse crime by authorities, and recommends new systems for reporting. They suggest regular monitoring and evaluation of the classifying procedures at Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to make sure they are accurate.
The report finds that the “Action Fraud” brand has been a barrier to some reporting of crime, and recommends the organisation is renamed the National Fraud and Cybercrime Reporting Centre. It also finds that greater prominence needs to be made of Computer misuse crime on the current Action Fraud website.
A review of information on all police force websites about computer misuse crime is also being advised, to ensure a consistency of reporting of such crimes across the country. Researchers found that all police officers and staff should be better trained in understanding what constitutes a Computer misuse crime offence.
This illustrates significant under-reporting and highlights a subsequent lack of support for those who have often been left deeply affected by the crimes
It is also recommended the National Cyber Security Centre works with key organisations who receive complaints from customers, including banks and social media providers, to encourage victims to report crime through common web links.
The report also suggested increasing resources for tackling computer misuse. Many victims who were questioned by University of Portsmouth researchers did not receive a police investigation or any police support. Only 4 of the 52 interviewed actually experienced their perpetrator(s) being brought to justice. The authors found that resources for dealing with Computer misuse crime are often built upon short-term funding.
Professor Button is hoping the report will serve as a wakeup call to officials in government and law enforcement. He said: ‘Despite nearly a million computer misuse crimes being reported in the 2018 England and Wales crime survey, just 23,683 were recorded by Action Fraud. This illustrates significant under-reporting and highlights a subsequent lack of support for those who have often been left deeply affected by the crimes.
Read the report
- Button, M., Sugiura, L., Blackbourn, D., Kapend, R., Shepherd, D., Wang, V. (2020) Victims of Computer Misuse. Executive Summary. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth.
- Button, M., Sugiura, L., Blackbourn, D., Kapend, R., Shepherd, D., Wang, V. (2020) Victims of Computer Misuse. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth.