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Cyber attacks cost UK corporates more than £2.45bn last year, according to police. A National Hi-tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) backed survey (PDF) of 200 firms published Tuesday found that 89 per cent of companies have experienced at least one incident in the past year, up from 83 per cent a year ago.

Malware - viruses, worms and trojans - tops the league of hi-tech crimes (costing UK firms an estimated £746m), followed by DDoS attacks (combined estimated losses £555m+) and equipment theft (which cost firms £412m). Even excluding virus attacks, most computer security incidents originated externally. However, data theft, criminal use of the Internet, financial and telecoms fraud were more likely to be committed by employees. Sabotage of data or networks and data by disgruntled workers was cited as a particular problem.

While malware caused the largest financial losses because of the sheer volume of attacks, financial fraud (with losses of £690m) and denial of service attacks were much more costly per incident. Large companies were better prepared to deal with attacks but more likely to be targeted than SMEs.

The NHTCU notes that internet attacks are changing - becoming more professional, more advanced and better disguised. Mick Deats, deputy head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, told delegates at this week's E-Crime Congress in London that over the past year there has been a "sustained increase in the professionalism of cybercriminals".

The survey, conducted for the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit by NOP, follows calls for more police funding to help stem the growth in cybercrime. Deats commented that digital evidence from mobile phones and the like plays an increasing role in mainstream criminal prosecutions, creating more work for specialist police unit. "This evidence is handled by computer crime units that require more resources," he said.

Deats added that computer crime sentences are not strong enough but added that this problem is mitigated because it was often possible to charge suspects with more serious mainstream offences, such as extortion in cases where individuals are accused of threatening web sites with denial of service attacks. ®

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