Lauren Dunn

Global computer crime levels more than doubled last year, rising from 10,000 incidents in 1999 to over 21,000 incidents last year.

Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute - which tracks online criminal activity in the United States and helps victims - also showed that the first quarter of 2001 saw more than 7000 reported incidents.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Centre, which was established by the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Centre in May 2000, reports increasing amounts of Internet fraud. Its reports total more than 20,000 complaints from its inception until early November. In addition to fraudulent transactions, cyber crime ranges from hacking to stealing credit-card numbers and planting viruses.

Fraud headache The Fraud Complaint Centre, which acts as a "cyber-community watch group", reports that online auction fraud comprises nearly two-thirds of the complaints.

"Computer crime will continue to grow as long as online commerce and business increases," says Richard Power, editorial director of the Computer Security Institute, a private group that conducts annual cyber crime surveys of US businesses and institutions. "It's growing because most people don't understand security."

"Sometimes victims know what they need to do to prevent problems," Power says. "For example, almost all companies surveyed report incidents of viruses, and nearly all say they use antivirus software."

Of the 538 businesses surveyed by the Computer Security Institute, 64 per cent say they experienced financial losses from computer breaches. About 70 per cent of the respondents report their Internet connections are a frequent target of cyber criminals, rather than their internal systems.

Despite the increasing numbers, Dempsey and Power agree that tougher cyber crime laws are not the answer, because the government has a bad track record in online security.

"This is not a law enforcement problem," Dempsey says.