Cybercrime as destructive as credit crisis: experts

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Cybercrime is likely to wreak as much havoc as the credit crisis in the coming years if international regulation is not improved, some of the world’s top crime experts said on Wednesday.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer

Damage caused by cybercrime is estimated at $100 billion annually, said Kilian Strauss, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“These criminals, they outsmart us ten, or a hundred to one,” Strauss told Reuters, adding more internet experts were needed to investigate and tackle cybercrime.

Criminal organizations are exploiting a regulatory vacuum to commit internet crimes such as computer spying, money-laundering and theft of personal information, and the scope for damage is vast, experts told a European Economic Crime conference in Frankfurt.

“We need multilateral understanding, account and oversight to avoid, in the years to come, a cyber crisis equivalent to the current financial crisis,” Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said.

Internet crime is also a threat to national security, they said. Several countries, including the United States, have voiced concern over Russia’s and China’s abilities to electronically spy on them and disrupt computer networks.

Calls for greater regulation of the internet come at a time of regulatory renaissance, with policymakers looking to bolster the powers of financial sector watchdogs in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“Because of the transnational nature of identity-related crime, and especially of cybercrime, if we do not tackle the crime everywhere we will not solve it anywhere,” Costa said.

The President of Interpol, Khoo Boon Hui, said increasingly tech-savvy gangs from China, India, Eastern Europe and Africa were coming up with ever more sophisticated ways of swindling money from vulnerable people.

He also said there was a trend of company bosses being bribed by fraudsters claiming to have incriminating evidence about their firms.

Strauss, who works as Senior Programme Officer at the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental activities, said Internet crime watchdogs could learn a lot from criminals willing to switch sides.

Additional Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence