In a new report, Europe’s police agency has warned that new and emerging technologies are being used by criminal gangs operating in nearly every aspect of the crime.
“Technology is a key component of most, if not all criminal activities carried out by organised crime groups in the EU,” Europol director Rob Wainwright said at the launch of a new report, aimed at helping to shape European crime-fighting policy for the next four years.
Europol also said gangs were exploiting technology to enhance ‘traditional crime’. Drones, for example, are being used to transport drugs. Modern thieves are likely to use social media to check if you are home before calling round. The steady increase in the number of reported burglaries across Europe was a “particular concern” for many nations.
Developments such as the emergence of the online trade in illicit goods and services are set to result in significant shifts in criminal markets. Europol is tracking 5,000 different international crime groups that are involved in document fraud, money laundering and online trade in illegal goods which helps to pay for other damaging crimes.
The 2017 Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment (Socta) revealed that criminal gangs across Europe are adept at exploiting new technologies to help them arrange and carry out crimes.
The wider use of technology by criminal gangs poses the “greatest challenge” to police forces and law enforcement authorities around the world, including in the EU. Cybercrime is now one of Europol’s top priority crime threats.
“Cybercrime is a global phenomenon affecting all Member States and is as borderless as the internet itself. The attack surface continues to grow as society becomes increasingly digitised, with more citizens, businesses, public services and devices connecting to the internet,” the report added.
The “comprehensive” study of organised crime in Europe found a wide range of crime groups ranging from loose networks of individual criminals up to large trans-national bodies whose profits rival those of large enterprises. All these criminal groups had great affection towards technology because of the ease of setting up cybercrime campaigns. Many groups used cyber crime campaigns, such as ransomware, to generate money that is needed to fund other illicit activities, such as drug and human trafficking operations.
Of particular concern is the rise of Crime-as-a-Service (CaaS), where people can buy goods and services on the dark net to help them carry out crimes, ranging from hacktivism to terrorism. The underground criminal marketplace is enabling crime that would otherwise be out of reach for at least entry-level cyber-criminals.
Europol highlights malware and cyber-criminal services as one of the main elements of CaaS, alongside stolen goods, counterfeit medicines, illicit drugs, child sexual exploitation materials and the trafficking of firearms.