At least 2 million internet users in Hong Kong were hit by cybercrime in a 12-month period, survey says

The city’s cybercrime rate in the 12 months ending September 2017 was higher than Japan and Singapore’s, with victims losing US$28 on average and spending 19 hours to deal with the consequences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 March, 2018, 8:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 1:49am

Over two million Hongkongers are thought to have been affected by cybercrime in the 12 months ending last September, losing US$28 (HK$220) on average and spending 19 hours dealing with the consequences, cybersecurity company Symantec said.

Symantec deduced this from its poll of 1,015 adults in the city last October, where 43 per cent declared they had been victims of online crimes – including identity theft, credit card fraud or having their account password compromised.

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It then applied the rate of 43 per cent to the population of about 5.6 million adult internet users in the city.

Hong Kong’s cybercrime rate was higher than Japan and Singapore’s – 18 per cent and 33 per cent respectively – which were the two other developed Asian economies included in Symantec’s annual poll of 20 cities and countries.

Symantec’s director of its Asia consumer business, Chee Choon Hong, said members of Generation Y – those born between the early 1980s and late 1990s – were the “most internet savvy and most security lax”.

The poll found that more than half of internet users in the cohort could have been affected by cybercrime between October 2016 and September 2017, compared with one in three baby boomers aged between 54 and 64.

Overall, the poll found that though 84 per cent of respondents said protecting themselves from malicious software and sites was their biggest cybersecurity concern, only about 78 per cent had taken steps to protect their devices.

About three in 10 said they wrote down their online account passwords on a piece of paper, while just over one in 10 used the same password for different accounts.

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But the poll also revealed people were of two minds about more stringent policing of online behaviour.

While more than 70 per cent agreed that cybercrime should be treated as a criminal act, 57 per cent believed it was “sometimes acceptable” to commit morally questionable online behaviour, such as sharing false information on social media, reading others’ emails without permission or putting software on someone’s device to track their whereabouts.

About 25 per cent thought that stealing information online was not as bad as stealing property in real life.

In Hong Kong, accessing a computer without proper authorisation could lead to a conviction and fine of HK$25,000, while those who are proven to have intended to commit an offence or dishonesty through such access could be jailed.

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Police figures show cybercrime cases have skyrocketed. The force recorded 653 cases of cybercrimes in 2005, the first year it began tracking such offences, and saw the number reach 5,939 in 2016, with HK$2.3 billion lost that year.

Chee said internet users should develop better online habits – such as setting up strong passwords and changing them regularly and being conscious of the online tools and services they use.

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Noting that Symantec’s findings came as Facebook’s privacy practices were under investigation by US authorities after it failed to protect the personal information of millions of users, Chee said: “Everybody knows how these companies – Facebook, Twitter, Google – work. Their commercial models are to collect your data and give you what you prefer.

“There is a choice. It’s not difficult to delete your Facebook account. But do you want to?”