Many organisations vulnerable to cyber crime were reluctant to share information because their reputation is on the line. Picture is for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: More than half of the UAE's 2.55 million internet users were victims of cybercrime from February 2010 to February 2011, experts say.

While approximately Dh735 million was stolen from internet users over the 12-month period, Dh1.44 billion was spent on dealing with attacks, Philip Victor, director of policy and development at Impact, a security services firm that works with the UN, said yesterday.

The attacks vary from viruses and malware, online harassment, ‘phishing' messages to being approached online by sexual predators.

Tamim Tawfiq, head of consumer sales Mena for Symantec, said the UAE figure was so high because of a lack of education in the region about cyber-crimes and awareness programmes. "In a country where more and more users are dependent on the internet for work, social networking, and everyday tasks such as banking and shopping, there is a definitive gap between how much users are going online and the preventive measures they take when doing so," said Tawfiq.

He added that there is a dire need for users to take steps to protect their personal information on the web just as they would for their physical belongings, especially when 84 per cent of cybercrime victims in the UAE find virtual attacks to be just as frustrating and upsetting as one in the real world.

The most common type of cybercrime in the UAE, Tawfiq said, is through viruses or malware, amounting to 65 per cent of the attacks monitored in 12 months by Norton. Online scams represented 54 per cent of attacks, while phishing messages came in at 53 per cent of attacks, he added.

Mobile alert

The number of attacks that occurred via mobile phones is also rising, with 20 per cent occurring through mobile internet. Fifty-six per cent of mobile phone users access the internet via their mobile phones, Tawfiq said, adding that the figure is set to grow.

On a global basis, up to 44 per cent of online users have been victims of cybercrime over the last 12 months, according to Symantec report.

The Internet Security Report 2011, published by online security firm Norton, disclosed that 72 per cent of adults in the UAE had been victims of cyber crime in the past year.

The study asserted that victims in the UAE spent the longest solving problems associated with online crime, taking on average 16 days. By comparison, users in the UK took on average just four days.

Tarek Al Hawi, director of AECERT, told Gulf News that the solution of cybercrime is simple with cooperation and collaboration between the parties concerned including government entities. "The solution is simple; users must take their security into their own hands by being smart and safe when they are connected," he said.

He added that as cyber-criminals work on new and varied methods to target victims, it is of fundamental importance that users protect themselves by taking a cautious approach to online activity and comprehensive security solutions.

He explained that only two out of every 10 people affected by a cyberattack will report it to the authorities, while over half of users in the UAE don't have up-to-date security software.