Businesses and law enforcement agencies are losing the “cyber arms race” with online criminals, the UK’s National Crime Agency has warned.
The technical capabilities of criminal gangs are outpacing the UK’s ability to deal with their threat, the NCA added.
It said there were 2.46 million “cyber incidents” last year, including 700,000 frauds – with the biggest threat coming from “a few hundred” criminals.
The government is to spend £1.9bn over the next five years on cyber-defences.
The NCA’s annual assessment of cybercrime found a key threat to the UK comes from international gangs.
Some are so well-developed they run call centres and employ translators.
“Cybercriminals targeting the UK include international serious organised crime groups as well as smaller-scale, mostly domestic, criminals and hacktivists,” it said.
“The NCA assesses that the most advanced and serious cyber crime threat to the UK is the direct or indirect result of activity by a few hundred international cyber criminals, typically operating in organised groups, who target UK businesses to commit highly profitable malware-facilitated fraud.
“These cyber-attacks include attacks directly targeting business systems and attacks against individuals.”
The NCA said the “accelerating pace of technology and criminal cyber-capability development” currently outpaces the UK’s collective response to cybercrime.
“This ‘cyber arms race’ is likely to be an enduring challenge, and an effective response requires collaborative action from government, law enforcement, industry regulators and, critically, business leaders,” the report added.
The NCA says the true scale of criminality is likely to be far bigger because of what it calls “a serious problem” of under-reporting.
It urged businesses to report when they are victims of cybercrime and to share more intelligence, “both with law enforcement and with each other”.
In response to the threat, the UK government plans a new National Cyber Security Centre, as well as working with internet service companies to block online attacks.