By Rik Ferguson

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has warned businesses that the problem of cyber crime is a serious threat, and one that is likely to get significantly worse in the near future.

In a piece for The Telegraph, Sir Stephenson stated that online fraud - through malware infection, Trojan viruses, and 'phishing' attacks - generated £52 billion world-wide in 2007, and that it is more than likely that the true figure is much higher, with many victims not reporting their losses.

As staggering a sum as that is, Sir Stephenson believes it's going to get worse. Warning that "there are disturbing signs that 'traditional' British organised crime is waking up to the profits and uses of e-crime," Sir Stephenson predicted that criminals will increases their use of lower-risk electronic crimes - a future where criminal gangs "hire their own writers of software."

Sir Stephenson even believes that "there is a risk that cyber crime will become their main source of cash flow," with the high-volume environments of digital fraud, theft, and extortion offering much the same profitability as traditional bank-robbing at a much lower risk.

It's a story that is far from unique to the UK. All over the world, criminals are adopting the use of cyber attacks in order to increase their illegal revenue stream - and that's not a trend which is likely to reverse any time soon.

Sir Stephenson goes on to warn companies that policing of cyber crime in the UK lags behind other countries such as the US, with a mere 11 percent of the organised crime groups in the UK under active observation at any given time.

Accordingly, Sir Stephenson advises companies and consumers that it's up to them to protect themselves as best they can. Advising on the use of anti-virus and anti-malware protection, Sir Stephenson says that users must "make sure your computer is protected and that the protection's up-to-date."

If the UK market for cyber criminals is growing as rapidly as Sir Stephenson suggests, it's sound advice: while the police will investigate a reported cyber-attack, by then it is often too late. The impact of an attack against a company can stretch far beyond mere monetary losses, with internal data, customer information, and trade secrets often the target of digital theft - and the damage to a company's reputation can be the worst blow of all.

Sir Stephenson's comments show that it is more important than ever that a company takes steps to protect its systems, its networks, its users, and its customers by ensuring that proper protection against digital intrusion is in place - anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware protection is no longer optional in today's connected world.