Hackers love the UK, but not for the reason you think

Ex-Met cyber specialist explains why the UK is such a popular destination for cyber criminals

For hackers, the UK is one of the most popular countries in Europe, according to a former London Met cyber crime specialist, but not just as a target for cyber attacks.

Speaking at the Datto-sponsored Cyber Security Summit in London, Charlie McMurdie, who previously ran the London Metropolitan Police's fraud and high-tech crime divisions, told attendees that although Britain's comparative wealth and widespread adoption of technology makes it one of the most targeted countries in Europe for cyber thieves, it's also one of the most popular countries for hackers to store, launder and spend their proceeds in.

"If you're making millions at cybercrime, you don't want to be in the back of beyond where you can't spend your lovely cash or bitcoins; you want to be in the UK where you can go down to Harrods in Knightsbridge," McMurdie said, joking that "probably every tenth person going into Harrods is a cyber criminal".

McMurdie described how cyber criminals would deploy "spending teams", tasked with converting fraudulently-obtained credit cards into expensive goods.

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"Harrods they liked - in the limousine, with a fistful of cards, with your minders... and they turn up at Harrods and they were buying 10,000 diamond-encrusted iPhones and vases and chairs. No one's going to challenge them; they look like the part, they're spending the part, they've got the cards, they're all going through."

Another reason that hackers are particularly fond of the UK, she said, is that its banking system is ideally-suited to laundering money. The ability to make rapid transfers between accounts allows hackers to bounce their money between multiple different banks within a short space of time, obscuring the source of the money and allowing them to withdraw it before the authorities catch up to them.

"Our banks are really good, and they're really good at moving money fast. And if you're doing cybercrime and making loads of money, you need to bounce it around, you need to launder that cash, you need to move it around the banks to evade law enforcement and wash it out. And our banks are really good at moving money fast-time. It doesn't take two days to move money from A to B - it's done at the click of a switch."

"The only bad side for cyber criminals," she noted, "is our banks are pretty good and switched on at recognising these transactions as money-laundering that takes place - and they're also pretty hot at working with law enforcement. So there's a double-edged sword there."

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