Apps for encrypted communications are now being used by criminals of all kinds, not just hackers, says the National Crime Agency
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has listed encryption as one of the technologies making criminals’ jobs easier, as it makes it more difficult for law enforcement organisations to “collect intelligence and evidence”.
In its annual National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2018 report, the NCA said communications service providers had migrated to encrypted services ‘by default’ since 2010, a process that accelerated following Edward Snowden’s disclosures of mass surveillance in 2013.
“Now, the majority of internet traffic is encrypted and publicly available mobile device apps offer end-to-end encryption as standard,” the report said.
Widespread encryption “is impacting on law enforcement’s ability to collect intelligence and evidence”, the NCA said.
NCA director general Lynne Owens said the report showed organised crime groups were increasingly taking advantage of digital technologies to carry out their activities.
“This year’s assessment shows that organised crime groups are exploiting digital technology, for instance using encryption to communicate, and dark web marketplaces to aid their activities,” she said.
Encryption and online anonymisation technologies pose “substantial challenges to law enforcement’s collection of intelligence and evidence”, the report said.
The report cited virtual private networks (VPNs) and digital currencies as ways criminals could create secure and anonymous operating environments.
Encrypted communications apps were now being used by all types of organised crime gangs, outside of the realm of cyber-crime, the report said.
Encryption is routinely cited as a problem by government agencies. But a Harvard report suggested the rapid spread of internet-connected devices would solve the problem by creating new venues for surveillance.
The NCA report cited Britain’s exit from the EU as a “key driver of uncertainty” over the next five years, saying it created opportunities for criminals.
Corrupt people in countries such as Russia, Nigeria and Pakistan were using the UK to launder money, for instance by investing in London property. The scale of money laundering in the UK is in the billions of pounds annually, the NCA said.
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