The annual cost of cybercrime has hit $600 billion worldwide, fueled by growing sophistication of hackers and proliferation of criminal marketplaces and cryptocurrencies, researchers said.
A report produced by the security firm McAfee with the Center for Strategic and International Studies found theft of intellectual property represents about one-fourth of the cost of cybercrime in 2017.
The researchers said ransomware is the fastest-growing component of cybercrime, helped by the easy availability of marketplaces offering hacking services. The global research report comes days after the White House released a report showing cyberattacks cost the United States between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016, while warning of a "spillover" effect for the broader economy if certain sectors are hit.
Globally, criminals are using the same tools for data or identity theft, bank hacks, and other cyber mischief, with anonymity preserved by using bitcoin or other cryptocurrency.
"The digital world has transformed almost every aspect of our lives, including risk and crime, so that crime is more efficient, less risky, more profitable and has never been easier to execute," said Steve Grobman, chief technology officer for McAfee.
CSIS vice president James Lewis said meanwhile the geopolitical risks of cybercrime are a key element in these attacks. "Our research bore out the fact that Russia is the leader in cybercrime, reflecting the skill of its hacker community and its disdain for western law enforcement," Lewis said.
"North Korea is second in line, as the nation uses cryptocurrency theft to help fund its regime, and we're now seeing an expanding number of cybercrime centers, including not only North Korea but also Brazil, India and Vietnam."
The latest McAfee-CSIS report suggested cybercrime costs were rising from a 2014 estimate of $445 billion. "Cybercrime remains far too easy, since many technology users fail to take the most basic protective measures, and many technology products lack adequate defenses, while cybercriminals use both simple and advanced technology to identify targets, automate software creation and delivery, and easy monetization of what they steal," the report said.
The study did not attempt to measure the cost of all malicious activity on the internet, but focused on the loss of proprietary business data, online fraud and financial crimes, manipulation directed toward publicly traded companies, cyber insurance and reputational damage.