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Cybercrime hurting businesses to tune of $600 billion

Why? Because the digital era has made crime easier than ever, says a new report from McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ransomware cyberattack

A message demanding money on a computer hacked by a virus. Such viruses, or "ransomware," are part of what makes crime so easy in the digital age, says a report.

Donat Sorokin/Getty Images

The internet has made life easier in a whole lot of ways. Love that convenience? So do criminals.

A report out Wednesday says cybercrime may now be costing businesses worldwide as much as $600 billion, and it points to the ease of digital crime as the reason.

"The digital world has transformed almost every aspect of our lives, including risk and crime, so that crime is more efficient, less risky, more profitable and has never been easier to execute," Steve Grobman, chief technology officer for computer security company McAfee, said in a statement. McAfee developed the report (PDF) along with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonprofit, bipartisan think tank.

The fastest-growing tool for digital crooks right now? Ransomware, the report says. That's malicious software that can lock up your computer files till you send hackers a ransom payment. Attackers used it in the headline-grabbing WannaCry assault that hit hospitals, banks, telecommunications companies and warehouses in the middle of last year.

More than 6,000 illegal online marketplaces now offer ransomware for sale, says the McAfee-CSIS report. And if the buy-it-and-try-it, DIY approach seems like a headache, would-be criminals can simply hire a contractor -- ransomware-as-a-service is getting more popular.

Indeed, general cybercrime-as-a-service has gotten more sophisticated, says the study, with everything from custom malware to attack kits to botnet rentals available for convenience-seeking cyberbaddies.

The report also says the advent of cryptocurrencies has made it easier for digital troublemakers to actually make money off their crimes.

What's to be done? The study says that if data about cyberthreats was better standardized and cybersecurity requirements were better coordinated, businesses could more effectively protect themselves.

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