Cybercrime 'pandemic' may have cost the world $600 billion last year

Lynette Lau
Cyber crime is the only criminal enterprise with a 'help desk'
Cyber crime is the only criminal enterprise with a 'help desk'

The global cost of cybercrime has now reached as much as $600 billion — about 0.8 percent of global GDP — according to a new report.

More worrying than that figure may be the massive growth from 2014, when the same analysis showed the cost was only as much as $445 billion.

That rapid increase is largely due to the lower cost of entry and advancements in technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, according to Ian Yip, the Asia Pacific chief technology officer at cybersecurity firm McAfee. Speaking with CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday, he explained how conducting criminal activity in cyberspace has gotten easier.

Cybercrime is the only criminal enterprise that has "a help desk," he said, adding that would-be criminals "don't need to be technologically advanced" anymore to conduct a cyberattack.

The analysis comes as McAfee and American think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies releases a study entitled "The Economic Impact of Cybercrime—No Slowing Down," which assesses the gravity of what Yip called a cybercrime "pandemic."

"When you look at the cost of cybercrime in relation to the worldwide internet economy — $4.2 trillion in 2016 — cybercrime can be viewed as a 14 percent tax on growth," McAfee said about the study.

Certain nation states have come to be regarded as safe havens for cybercriminals, Yip said, adding that countries such as North Korea, Iran and Russia "tend to go after financial services," while "espionage activities" are more rampant in China.

The report comes at a time when cryptocurrency hacks have been in the spotlight. A headline-grabbing example is the recent hack of Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck, where almost 58 billion yen of NEM coins were stolen. That wasn't the first of its kind, but it was certainly one of the biggest thefts to have occurred. In response, cryptocurrency users and investors have voiced concerns about the need for higher standards and broad regulatory systems to safeguard their interests.

The Asia Pacific region alone, Yip said, has lost $171 billion to cybercrime.