There may be a recession in Europe, but business is booming for cyber-criminals.
There are an estimated 3,600 organized crime groups currently operating in Europe, the European Union law enforcement agency Europol said in its 2013 EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment study released Tuesday. While international drug trafficking remained the most active organized crime activity in the EU, cybercrime is a growing crime area as criminals take advantage of the Internet to “generate illicit profits at low risk,” the study found.
Criminals are relying on the increasingly interconnected world to form a networked community of heterogeneous, international groups, Europol said. These individuals groups are no longer defined by their nationality, geographic region, or type of criminal activity. Organized crime can now operate on an international basis, “with a business-like focus on maximizing profit and minimizing risk,” said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol.
“A new breed of organized crime groups is emerging in Europe, capable of operating in multiple countries and criminal sectors,” said Wainwright.
The volume of cybercrime activity, such as phishing and click fraud scams, is expected to increase, according to Europol. The increase “will closely mirror the growth of the attack surface, as the Internet becomes even more essential to everyday life,” the report warned.
Thanks to the Internet, organized crime groups are able to access a large pool of victims, obscure their activities, and carry out a wide range of activities within a shorter period of time and on a larger scale, Europol found. Fraud, particularly online fraud, is an especially lucrative business for criminals. Fraud causes losses of billions of Euros per year in the EU, the report found.
Europol also said criminal groups are using online scams to fund traditionally offline crime, such as child exploitation rings.
“Cybercrime in the form of large scale data breaches, online frauds and child sexual exploitation poses an ever increasing threat to the EU, while profit-driven cybercrime is becoming an enabler for other criminal activity,” according to the report.
As more users shift to using mobile devices as their primary way of going online, criminals will increasingly target those devices. “Malware affecting these devices has already been seen, although mobile botnets have not yet been fully realized,” Europol warned.
Cybercrime is booming due to a lack of security awareness among European organizations and users, Europol said. For example, people and organizations “expose” themselves as targets by making their data freely available on social networking sites.
Organizations also have not fixed ongoing security flaws in their infrastructure, giving the criminals easy access. Security remains a “concern and challenge” as organizations outsource administrative, maintenance and development tasks, and effective prevention measures are still relatively expensive to deploy.
The report identified crime areas including illegal immigration, human trafficking, counterfeiting, cybercrime, drug trafficking, and money laundering, within the EU. The report also highlighted illicit waste trafficking and energy fraud as emerging threats.
The information in the 2013 SOCTA report is based on intelligence collected from various law enforcement databases, other information provided by the government, and Europol’s own extensive collection of data. The Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers are expected to use the report’s findings and recommendations to define priorities for the next four years