International review of criminal policy - Nos. 43 and 44/The extent of crime and losses
B. The extent of crime and losses
27. Only a small portion of crimes come to the attention of the law enforcement authorities. In his book Computer Security, J. Carroll states that "computer crime may be the subject of the biggest cover-up since Watergate". While it is possible to give an accurate description of the various types of computer offences committed, it has proved difficult to give an accurate, reliable overview of the extent of losses and the actual number of criminal offences. At its Colloquium on Computer Crimes and Other Crimes against Information Technology, held at Würzburg, Germany, from 5 to 8 October 1992, AIDP released a report on computer crime based on reports of its member countries that estimated that only 5 per cent of computer crime was reported to law enforcement authorities.
28. The number of verifiable computer crimes is not, therefore, very high. This fact notwithstanding, authorities point out that the evidence of computer crime discernible from official statistical sources, studies and surveys indicates the phenomenon should be taken seriously.
29. The American Bar Association conducted a survey in 1987: of 300 corporations and government agencies, 72 claimed to have been the victim of computer-related crime in the 12-month period prior to the survey, sustaining losses estimated to range from $ 145 million to $ 730 million. In 1991, a survey of security incidents involving computer-related crime was conducted at 3,000 Virtual Address Extension (VAX) sites in Canada, Europe and the United States of America. Seventy-two per cent of the respondents said that a security incident had occurred within the previous 12-month period; 43 per cent indicated that the security incident they had sustained had been a criminal offence. A further 8 per cent were uncertain whether they had sustained a security incident. Similar surveys conducted around the world report significant and widespread abuse and loss.
30. Law enforcement officials indicate from their experience that recorded computer crime statistics do not represent the actual number of offences; the term "dark figure", used by criminologists to refer
to unreported crime, has been applied to undiscovered computer crimes. The invisibility of computer crimes is based on several factors. First, sophisticated technology, that is, the immense, compact storage capacity of the computer and the speed with which computers function, ensures that computer crime is very difficult to detect. In contrast to most traditional areas of crime, unknowing victims are often informed after the fact by law enforcement officials that they have sustained a computer crime. Secondly, investigating officials often do not have sufficient training to deal with problems in the complex environment of data processing. Thirdly, many victims do not have a contingency plan for responding to incidents of computer crime, and they may even fail to acknowledge that a security problem exists.
31. An additional cause of the dark figure is the reluctance of victims to report computer offences once they have been discovered. In the business sector, this reluctance is related to two concerns. Some victims may be unwilling to divulge information about their operations for fear of adverse publicity, public embarrassment or loss of goodwill. Other victims fear the loss of investor or public confidence and the resulting economic consequences. Some experts have suggested that these factors have a significant impact on the detection of computer crime.