How does cyber security in the UK compare to other countries?

In Information Security ByTeam Acumin / 22nd March 2016

Cyber crime, as we know, differs from most of forms of crime in that it is much harder to regulate from one country to the next, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t very different goings-on from one country to the next, and that the UK doesn’t have strategies, strengths and weaknesses in how it deals with this growing problem.

If you have ever wondered which countries have the most cyber crime, you may not realise that cyber attacks are rarely committed on a whim, and that certain factors attract cyber criminals to their world regions of choice. A rundown of the top 20 nations that suffer cyber crime, courtesy of Symantec, makes interesting reading too.

It may not surprise you to hear that the USA suffers more cyber crime than any other country in the world, but did you know that the UK is fourth on the list? When you consider that the three countries ahead of it (USA, China and Germany) have higher populations, it means that there is no smaller nation than the UK that is outdoing it in terms of cyber attacks.

Here is the list in full, together with each country’s share of the world’s malicious computer-based activity:

1. USA (23%)
2. China (9%)
3. Germany (6%)
4. UK (5%)
5. Brazil (4%)
6. Spain (4%)
7. Italy (3%)
8. France (3%)
9. Turkey (3%)
10. Poland (3%)
11. India (3%)
12. Russia (2%)
13. Canada (2%)
14. South Korea (2%)
15. Taiwan (2%)
16. Japan (2%)
17. Mexico (2%)
18. Argentina (1%)
19. Australia (1%)
20. Israel (1%)

Altogether, these 20 countries are the basis of more than four fifths (81%) of the world’s cyber crime. The US is in itself responsible for nearly a quarter, and the fact that Britain is home to 5% means that one in twenty instances of cyber crime are going on right here.

As mentioned earlier though, perhaps it is inevitable that larger, more populated countries will suffer from more malicious computer use. To give a fairer reflection of how these countries are performing in relation to their size, here they are in order of population:

1. China (1,375,520,000)
2. India (1,286,220,000)
3. USA (323,090,000)
4. Brazil (205,804,000)
5. Russia (146,544,710)
6. Japan (126,810,000)
7. Mexico (122,273,500)
8. Germany (81,459,000)
9. Turkey (78,741,053)
10. UK (65,097,000)
11. France (64,529,000)
12. Italy (60,676,361)
13. South Korea (51,555,409)
14. Spain (46,423,064)
15. Argentina (43,590,400)
16. Poland (38,484,000)
17. Canada (36,048,521)
18. Australia (24,032,600)
19. Taiwan (23,484,000)
20. Israel (8,476,600)

As we can see, it’s not merely a case of the biggest countries having the most cyber crime. The UK has considerably more than similarly sized France and Italy, and some other facts that may surprise people include South Korea having more cyber crime than Japan despite having less than half of its population, and the comparatively small Israel being on the list at all.

The report points out that access to broadband internet is always likely to make a difference, hence developed nations generally making up the list rather than highly populated but developing ones like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where access to the internet is not as readily available.

In what areas is the UK being targeted?

As well as calculating its share of overall cyber crime, the report also ranks each nation by where it is ranking within specific components, such as malicious code, spam zombies, hosting phishing sites, bot-infection and origin of attacks. The UK was in the top 10 for all five of these, but it is in the ranking of countries in which cyber attacks originate that statistics are rather alarming.

Britain comes third the rankings for attack origins, with only the US and China ahead of it. This suggests that British companies need to make sure that their staff are trained in computer security and IT, as the potential for malicious staff members to misuse their privileges is likely to be high.

The UK is also fourth in the malicious code rankings, and fifth for hosting phishing sites. Surprisingly, Germany, despite being the third most affected country overall, is not eben in the top 10 for malicious code. The US, meanwhile, takes the unwanted top spot for three of these cyber crime sectors (malicious code, phishing and attack origin).

What is being done about this?

The UK’s attempts to fend off cyber criminals are spearheaded by the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU). It is worth remembering though that the term ‘cyber crime’ refers not only to hacking and other malicious computer use, but to any use of the internet to commit a crime, such as making threatening or harassing comments to somebody via social media.

With phishing and identity theft seemingly a particular problem in the UK, the NCUU is always keen to remind Brits using the internet to take careful steps, such as not responding to a request for a password or a bank card number, and to read requests from would-be businesses carefully, as non-legitimate correspondence will often contain typos or poor English. It also welcomes people to send any examples of malicious or spam emails to spam@nccu.edu.

The statistics are a sobering reminder that the UK is perhaps being more heavily affected by cyber crime that it should be for a country of its size and infrastructure. The first step to making sure that attackers fall at the first hurdle is to raise awareness and ensure that internet-using individuals are aware that there are people out there with less than honest intentions, but that will only have a limited affect. Cyber criminals are always looking for new ways to misuse their knowledge, and there will always be people who unwittingly provide them with exactly what they want.

A more complete solution is for the UK to train more people to take an interest in cyber security, effectively meaning that computer-savvy employees with good intentions can outnumber and outwit the ones using the web unethically for their own personal gain.