“It’s a massive phenomenon globally. If you look at the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners, they predict that an average of five per cent of turnover of all organisations is lost to white collar crime. If you translate that into GDP numbers for South Africa, it’s huge,” Deloitte Risk Advisory director of forensics Graham Dawes told CNBC Africa on Wednesday.
According to a 2012 Norton report on cybercrime, the highest number of cybercrime victims was found in Russia, China and South Africa.
The report also illustrated that cybercrime was not limited to access via computers alone, but had evolved to fraud through cell phones and social media networks. Stock exchanges are now also just as vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
“The most common thing we find at the moment is electronic funds transfer fraud, where accountants and bookkeepers working for organisations are changing bank account details of vendors on the system and then diverting payments to themselves, to their spouses,” said Steven Powell, a forensics executive at ENS Forensics.
“A lot of companies are not even aware that they’re being targeted by this type of fraud. It’s very difficult to detect and they literally lose millions before they realise that they are actually out of pocket.”
South Africa is ranked 64th out of 182 countries on the Transparency International's corruption index, with fraud and corruption widely regarded as two of the biggest threats to the country’s economy.
Earlier this year, a cyber-criminal gang stole 160 million credit card numbers through cyber hacks from over a dozen companies in America. This resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We put together a cyber-incidents response team for exactly that reason. Looking at cyber criminals that are targeting organisations across the globe, South Africa at the moment is probably the number one across Africa in terms of internet hacking,” said Dawes.
Cybercrime syndicates are becoming more sophisticated and developing the ability to hack into large amounts of data. Resources will need to be poured into setting up and funding data forensics units within organisations, government and for the public.
“We see it as probably the most serious phenomenon going forward in terms of white collar crime, because now you’re not only dealing with South Africans and internal staff that might be stealing money, you’re dealing with the globe, and it’s an anonymous individual sitting somewhere in the back,” he said.