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It’s time we act against digital crime  

By Ashok Vaswani, CEO Barclays UK.

In everyday life we are diligent in managing the risks that threaten our daily safety; looking both ways before crossing the road or making sure our doors are locked, for instance. Yet we don’t exercise the same caution in our online lives. As we become more familiar with digital living, new research shows increased usage may be leaving us more vulnerable to online attacks.

Cybercrime is now the UK’s number one threat, with the latest ONS crime figures showing that fraud and cyber offences make up half of all recorded crime in the UK. In fact, our own research shows this figure may well be under-representing the threat; a quarter of people in the UK (25 per cent) have experienced a cyber-fraud or scam in the past three years and 18% of them have experienced it on multiple occasions.

As incidences grow, so too does the financial impact. Victims of online crime are estimated to lose an average of £523 per person, equating to a total £11bn across the UK between 2015 and 2016[1].

Despite the rising threat – on individuals and businesses alike – Barclays’ research released earlier this year shows that just one in six (17 per cent) of us are able to identify even the most basic of cyber threats.

We also learned that the more people spend time online the more exposed they are, creating a far greater threat than we could have ever anticipated. The work we commissioned identified the UK’s most vulnerable groups to cybercrime, finding that those in the UK between the ages of 25 and 34 years old are twice as likely to be victims of online fraud than older generations, with nearly a third (32%) having fallen victim. Furthermore, this group pays less attention to their digital safety than their older peers, leaving themselves more open to attack.

This theme of confidence breeding susceptibility can be viewed through a geographical lens too. City residents in Britain have an increased likelihood of being victims of cybercrime compared with those living in rural areas. The ubiquity of Wi-Fi in public spaces, and the use of phones to pay and board transport may be making urban dwellers more blasé about threats in the online world, and criminals are cottoning onto this opportunity – London, Bristol and Birmingham are all hotspots for cybercrime.

We’re now at a turning point in the evolution of the internet. The progress we have made since Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the internet in 1989 is astounding and the pace of digital progression that we can expect in the next twenty eight years is beyond comprehension. The cyber economy is set to frame the way we live our lives more than ever before, with digital being a focal point for the way we conduct business, plan and enforce policy and frame our future as a nation. So the national threat of cybercrime requires a unified national response.

Rather than stop using the internet – as millennials appear more prone to do after being scared by an attack – we need to take pre-emptive measures to improve our safety; like the older generations in our survey who were more likely to have taken steps such as changing their passwords following an attack.

If we are to defeat the fraudsters, businesses, government and individuals all have a part to play.  Fostering true “digital empowerment” is not only about building our digital knowledge and confidence, but about helping everyone to protect themselves and operate safely online.

For governments this may involve the development of national guidelines for core ‘digital safety’ behaviours – similar to those already developed for businesses – and building digital safety into the national curriculum. For businesses we will see them doing more to help customers and employees to stay safe online. Finally, individuals have a responsibility to keep themselves safe online – researchers draw analogies between staying safe online and public health – one person’s negligence can harm others. We believe that the best way to fight an epidemic of cybercrime is by sharing information about how it happened, and how best to tackle the issue.

Only by working together can we all continue to benefit from the opportunities offered by our evolving digital age.

[1]  https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice

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