Internet users in the UK were the victims of more cyber crimes last year than in any other developed country.
Statistics from Dutch cyber security company Surfshark showed that there were 4,783 victims of cyber crime for every one million users in Britain in 2021, well ahead of the US on 1,494 cyber crimes per person — a 13 per cent year-on-year decline.
A distant third was Canada with 174 instances, followed by Australia and Greece.
South Africa, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Mexico rounded off the top 10.
At 50 per cent, the Netherlands experienced the biggest surge in cyber crimes.
Crucially, the number of cyber crimes grew 40 per cent in the UK last year, compared to the global rate of 8 per cent, said Agneska Sablovskaja, a data researcher at Surfshark, which also provides virtual private network services.
“Therefore, it is crucial to invest in people’s practical knowledge and education, which is proven to be one of the most important factors in developing the ability to cope with online threats," she said.
Cyber criminals continue to look for lucrative opportunities and tend to be where digital activity is most apparent. They have increased their efforts to keep one step ahead of organisations and individuals as digital adoption in daily life continues to rise.
Overall, online criminal activity cost about $6 trillion globally last year, according to a study by research company Cybersecurity Ventures. If that were to be measured as a country, it would be the world's third-largest economy after the US and China.
By 2025, these crimes are expected to cost the world about $10.5tn, up 250 per cent from 2015's $3tn, the company added.
Surfshark's study identified investing as the sector most targeted by cyber criminals last year. Although not the top vertical in terms of the number of victims — about 20,600 — the average and total losses were both first at $70,811 and about $1.46 billion, respectively.
Online payment fraud was the top category for the number of victims — about 93,500.
Ransomware attacks — which surged 105 per cent annually last year, according to cyber security firm SonicWall — resulted in losses of almost $50m.
However, phishing — which involves fake emails appearing to come from a reputable source with the aim of securing personal information — remained criminals' method of choice for a third consecutive year in 2021, Surfshark said.
There were 323,972 phishing attacks last year, meaning "every second individual that fell for an online crime fell for a phishing attack", it said.
"Malware and ransomware attacks are becoming more exclusive to businesses; they claimed around 4,500 victims in 2021. Compared to phishing, that is more than 70 times fewer victims."
The cyber crime trend has consistently risen since 2001, with the online victim count increasing 17 times and financial losses surging 400 times, Surfshark said.
Overall, this translates to more than 6.5 million victims and over $26bn in losses over that 21-year period.
Cyber criminals also exploit worldwide events, most notably in 2009, a year after the global financial crisis, when cyber crime-related financial losses surged 115 per cent to $560m from $260m in 2008.
Most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic that started in 2020 led to the victim count leaping by 69 per cent, the highest growth recorded since 2001.