Internet users around the globe are likely to fall victim to a massive cybercriminal attack that will take place by the end of next year, according to a report by Gartner.
But the individuals responsible for this worldwide online theft will remain anonymous because international law enforcement officials will not have done enough groundwork to apprehend them.
Gartner analyst Richard Hunter explained: "Global law enforcement agencies are poorly positioned to combat these trends, leaving thousands of consumers vulnerable to online theft. Cybercriminals can now surreptitiously steal millions of dollars, a few dollars at a time, from millions of individuals simultaneously."
As a result, he added, they are likely to get away with the crime.
But the financial damage caused by cybercrime will increase by between 1,000 and 10,000 per cent by 2004, Hunter explained, not only due to the inadequate enforcement of cyberlaw, but also because new technology will mean there are more opportunities for cybercriminal activity. Criminals' knowledge of how to exploit such opportunities will also increase.
Funding to improve cyberlaw enforcement is likely to remain inadequate until 2004, however, and the situation will be made worse because there is no common international legal code to deal with cybercrime. Also, the technology necessary to undertake such crime is easily exportable, which means that criminals can jump borders to evade the law.
Hunter said: "This new generation of perpetrator won't be firing off warning shots."
As a result, he recommends that online users install personal firewalls on any computer that provides internet access, monitor all of their financial transactions frequently and disable any components in their browsers that deal with active content such as ActiveX and Java.
Analysts also advise web surfers to disable peer-to-peer networking capabilities in any machine connected to the internet, and use a credit card with a low credit limit when making purchases online.