The impact of cybercrime on businesses: a novel conceptual framework and its application to Belgium

  • Letizia Paoli
  • Jonas Visschers
  • Cedric Verstraete


Despite growing indications and fears about the impact of cybercrime, only few academic studies have so far been published on the topic to complement those published by consultancy firms, cybersecurity companies and private institutes. The review of all these studies shows that there is no consensus on how to define and measure cybercrime or its impact. Against this background, this article pursues two aims: 1) to develop a thorough conceptual framework to define and operationalize cybercrime affecting businesses as well as its impact, harms, and costs; and 2) to test this conceptual framework with a survey of businesses based in Belgium, which was administered in summer 2016 and elicited 310 valid responses. Consisting of five types, our conceptualization of cybercrime is, unlike others, technology-neutral and fully compatible with the legislation. Drawing on Greenfield and Paoli’s Harm Assessment Framework (The British Journal of Criminology, 53, 864–885, 2013), we understand impact as the overall harm of cybercrime, that is, the “sum” of the harms to material support, or costs, and the harms to other interest dimensions i.e., functional (or operational) integrity, reputation and privacy. Whereas we ask respondents to provide a monetary estimate of the costs, respondents are invited to rate the severity of the harms on the basis of an ordinal scale. We claim that this “double track” gives a fuller, more valid assessment of cybercrime impact. Whereas most affected businesses do not report major costs or harm, 15% to 20% of them rate the harms to their internal operational activities as serious or more, with cyber extortion regarded as most harmful.



We thank Dr. Elke Van Hellemont (University of Kent, previously KU Leuven) for her help in developing the questionnaire and organizing the data collection.


Project funded by BELSPO (Belgian Science Policy Office) under the BRAIN (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks) program: BR/132/A4/BCC.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KU Leuven Faculty of Law, Leuven Institute of CriminologyLeuvenBelgium

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