Computer software is one of the most popular and least understood technologies in the world, and the number of companies that make it has grown exponentially over the past decade.
According to a study released this month, by the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro, computer code is being used to steal $100 billion in assets every year.
The vast majority of that amount is being stolen from individuals and businesses, including from banks, credit card companies, online retailers, and other companies that hold the code for their products.
“The theft of software has grown so much in the past 10 years, that it has become the number one cybercrime target in the United States,” says Brian M. Vickers, a senior director at Trend Micro.
“This is the most significant increase we have seen in the last decade.”
The report analyzed data from a variety of sources, including the US Census Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and FBI.
Researchers also used data from Google, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCICS).
The report also analyzed the stolen code from more than 10,000 systems from the US Department of Energy, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Japan.
“We estimate that about $20 billion worth of software is stolen every year,” says Vickers.
“In the United Sates alone, more than $2 billion in stolen code is used every year.”
In the US, malware theft has become so prevalent that the FBI estimates that up to $25 billion in financial assets are held by criminals.
According the report, the vast majority are held in computers and other computers that do not have any real use.
The researchers estimated that the amount of software code stolen in the US is at least double that of the rest of the world.
“It is a trend that has been well documented for years, and it has exploded in the 10 years since it began,” says Kevin V. Smith, director of cyberintelligence and security at Symantec.
“With this latest report, we see the amount stolen on a per-computer basis growing by almost 30 percent every year, a pace that is unprecedented in the history of the industry.”
For example, the average amount of stolen code in the country last year was about $12.7 million, according to the report.
“If we were to look at the number stolen from financial institutions in the same time frame, it would be about $1.6 billion,” says Smith.
“So, there are massive amounts of software that are stolen from people and businesses every year just for the purpose of theft.”
The malware that is most commonly used to commit computer crimes is called a trojan.
The code is downloaded over the Internet by hackers who then alter computers and computers’ firmware.
Trojans often target the same computer, often because they can be installed in a relatively simple way, and are usually easy to reverse-engineer.
“These trojans can be used to access systems without users knowing, and they can also steal data,” Smith says.
In the United states, more hackers are being charged each year for hacking than any other country in the World, with the FBI estimating that there were more than 250,000 criminal charges filed in 2016.
In addition, the FBI says that more than a quarter of the stolen software is being recovered by law enforcement and by the general public.
Smith says that the trend of more criminal activity being committed against computers, even for trivial or non-violent offenses, is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“There are many different things that can be done to stop it,” he says.
“But the most important thing is for the government to put some kind of pressure on criminals to stop using these types of tools.
This is not something that happens every day, and if it were, we would see more and more of this.”
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take a computer and hack it,” says Adam Gazzaley, chief security officer of a major IT company.
“I wouldn’t even think about it if I were you.”