Exactly how harmful is cybercrime to the global economy? In terms of dollars, how big a price tag would you come up with? Do you think cybercrime causes $50 billion in annual losses — in terms of data stolen and productive time lost dealing with the fallout from various nefarious virtual attacks? You might think that maybe it's more on the order of $100 billion per year in losses.

Well, according to a new study conducted by Symantec, which produces the Norton antivirus software line, direct losses attributed to cybercrime — in terms of money and/or data stolen, systems crashed, etc. — amount to $114 billion annually, with an additional $274 billion worth of time lost on the part of corporations and individuals alike dealing with the fallout from cyber criminal activities. Thus, Symantec believes total global annual financial losses related to cybercrime hover near the $388 billion mark. That's a sum far bigger than what the global black market takes in from sales of marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined — a figure calculated by the United Nations to be $288 billion annually.

Now, of course, this is a survey conducted by a company with a pretty big stake in the anti-cybercrime market, so some fairly large grains of salt must be included when digesting the results. Still, as more and more daily commerce gets increasingly buttressed by all sorts of electronic supports, especially ones designed to speed cargo across borders and comply with a host of other security requirements, trucking companies should give the Norton Cybercrime Report 2011 more than a casual perusal.

The survey revealed that more than two-thirds of adults (69%) who spend a significant amount of time online say they've been victims of cybercrime. By extrapolating data from across the world's population, that roughly means that 14 adults become a victim of cybercrime every second, resulting in more than one million cybercrime victims every day, according to Symantec's research. Globally, the most common and most preventable type of cybercrimes are those caused by computer viruses and malware (shorthand for “malicious software”), with 54% of respondents saying they have experienced it in their lifetime, followed by online scams (11%) and phishing messages (10%), Symantec noted.

Earlier this year, Symantec's own security activities found more than 286 million unique variations of malware compared to the 240 million reported in 2009, representing a 19% increase. “Cybercrime is much more prevalent than people realize,” noted Adam Palmer, lead cyber security advisor for Symantec's Norton division, in the report.

That's why companies from across the trucking spectrum need to sit down and think long and hard about how to combat the growing threat of cybercrime to their businesses, especially in terms of what the long-term ramifications for freight security might be.

Whether you believe all of Symantec's results or not, the firm's cybercrime report should at least encourage truckers to give more thought to how they secure the electronic avenues that crisscross their operations every day.

Sean Kilcarr is Fleet Owner's senior editor. He can be reached at skilcarr@fleetowner.com