CyberCrimeSecurity

Criminals Making Greater Use Of Tech, Warns Europol

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Organised crime study reveals that nearly all criminal gangs are now using some form of technology

Europol has warned that there are now more than 5,000 criminal gangs operating within Europe, and almost all of them are utilising some form of technology.

In its European Union Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment 2017 report, which is released every four years, it identified that for almost all types of organised crime, criminals are deploying (and adapting) technology with ever greater skill.

This, according to Europol, is perhaps the greatest challenge now facing law enforcement authorities around the world.Vodafone Met Police Tablet 2

Police Report

The report said that the number of organised crime groups involved in more than one criminal activity has risen dramatically over the past four years (45 percent compared to 33 percent in 2013).

Europol identifies ransomware as the leading malware in terms of threat and impact. Typical cases sees the malware encrypting a victim’s files, and then denying them access until the victim pays a fee.

But even the authorities can hit be ransomware.

In January for example two-thirds of Washington, DC’s surveillance cameras were taken offline by two strains of ransomware.

Another rising criminal trend is document fraud, which Europol says is linked to the migration crisis. It says that document fraud, money laundering and the online trade in illicit goods and services “are the engines of organised crime”.

“The SOCTA 2017 … represents the outcome of the largest data collection on serious and organised crime ever undertaken in the EU,” explained Europol’s Director Rob Wainwright.

“Europol has been able to use its singular intelligence capability as the European information hub for criminal intelligence to analyse and identify the key crime threats facing the EU,” he said. “These include cybercrime, illicit drugs, migrant smuggling, organised property crime, and the trafficking in human beings.”

Criminal Tech

The report identifies disturbing ways criminals are now using technology. For example drug dealers are now often running online businesses to sell their illegal goods, or are using drones to distribute their wares.

Fraudulent documents are now supplied via the Dark Web, and ransomware is causing massive problems for many businesses and indeed consumers.

But even low level criminals are opting to use technology.

For example, burglars are now using online navigation tools such as Google Maps etc to scout neighbourhoods for the best targets.

Robbers also track social media posts to see when people are away from their home.

“Criminals have always been adept at exploiting technology,” said Europol. “However, the rate of technological innovation and the ability of organised criminals to adapt these technologies have been increasing steadily over recent years.”

Drone Wars

“Developments such as the emergence of the online trade in illicit goods and services are set to result in significant shifts in criminal markets and confront law enforcement authorities with new challenges,” it said.

It pointed out that drones will soon be able to carry heavier loads, and it is likely that criminal gangs will “invest in drone technology for trafficking purposes in order to avoid checks at border crossing points, ports and airports”.

Data has become a key commodity for criminals: increasing internet connectivity by citizens, businesses and the public sector, along with the exponentially growing number of connected devices and sensors as part of the Internet of Things will create new opportunities for criminals,” Europol warned.

Europol’s chief has previously called the increasing prevalence of encrypted Internet communications a major difficulty for law-enforcement and national security efforts.

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