Survey: Financial toll from computer crimes climbing

A survey of U.S. companies released today by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and an association of IT security workers found that 85 per cent of the respondents detected computer security breaches in the past 12 months and 64 per cent suffered financial losses as a result of the incursions.

The results of the annual survey, which were released today by the San Francisco-based Computer Security Institute (CSI) and a team at the FBI’s San Francisco office that investigates computer intrusions, also showed a sharp increase in the amount of dollar losses that respondents are attributing to security breaches.

Only 35 per cent of the 538 corporate, government and university security workers who took part in the survey could or would quantify their financial losses, according to the CSI and the FBI. But those 186 respondents reported total losses of US$377.8 million, well above the $265.5 million in damages that was cited by 249 respondents in last year’s survey.

Thefts of proprietary information and financial fraud accounted for $244.2 million of the losses reported in the new survey – a figure that was almost equal to the total losses listed in those categories for the previous three years combined, according to the CSI and the FBI. In the three prior surveys, they said, those losses amounted to an aggregate $249.6 million.

“As companies are getting better at quantifying their losses, we’re beginning to see what crime is going to look like in the information age,” said Richard Power, editorial director at CSI, which develops informational and educational programs related to information security. And it’s not a pretty picture for security managers and other IT workers charged with protecting corporate data.

Highly skilled electronic outlaws are taking the place of criminals who robbed stagecoaches during the 19th century and armored cars in more recent times, Power said. “We’re seeing a level of sophistication that goes beyond the stereotypical hacker,” he said. “This is serious crime. These [survey respondents] are 538 organizations that represent a significant chunk of mainstream American business.”