New breed of organized criminals aided by Internet, says Europol

A new breed of organized crime group is emerging in the European Union, greatly aided by the Internet, Europol reported on Tuesday.

In its "EU Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment," Europol identified 3600 organized crime groups operating in the EU.

Drug dealing is still king among the organizations, the report noted, but the groups are also turning to crimes that exploit the current poor economic climate and the Internet.

"While they're still involved in the drug trade, they are turning more to cyber crime," Beth Jones, a senior threat researcher at SophosLabs, told CSO.

Because of spotty worldwide laws on cyber crime, she explained, "It makes it very, very difficult not to just catch cyber criminals, but to prosecute them."

Europol noted that the Internet is a major driver of criminal activity. It enables organized crime groups to access a large pool of victims, obscure their activities and carry out a diverse range of criminal acts in a shorter period of time and on a much larger scale than ever before, the report maintained.

The spread of the Internet and technological advances have caused significant shifts in crime areas and the pattern of criminal activity, it added.

"The Internet brings a lot benefits to all of us in our daily activity, but it also makes a criminal's work more difficult to detect by law enforcement," Europol spokesperson Soren Pedersen told CSO.

The Internet has also made crime a true global business for many organizations, the report said. "International trade, an ever-expanding global transport infrastructure and the rise of the Internet and mobile communication have engendered a more international and networked form of serious and organized crime," Europol explained.

"There is an increased tendency for groups to cooperate with or incorporate into their membership a greater variety of nationalities," the report continued. "This has resulted in an increased number of heterogeneous groups that are no longer defined by nationality or ethnicity."

Networking, aided by the Internet, has become as important to organized criminals as it is to job seekers, the report said.

Frequent contact and cooperation between recruiters and traffickers in source and destination countries are instrumental in expanding human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, the report explained.

Typically, it continued, these contacts help to constantly negotiate demand and supply resulting in the continuous exchange of victims for prostitution.

The frequent movement of victims across jurisdictions makes it more difficult to identify trafficking activities and further complicates the work of law enforcement authorities, it added.

"Criminal networking is a highly effective method, which enables criminal groups to stay ahead of law enforcement efforts," the report said.

That's especially true at the local law enforcement level, said Alex Salazar, CEO of Stormpath. "States don't have the resources or core competencies to deal with a lot of this," he told CSO.

In addition, there's an industry now that keeps producing tools for anyone who wants to get into cyber crime, he added. "There's a whole economy out there of people who are building tools and products for the guys who want to perpetrate these crimes," Salazar said. "It's much harder to protect against a crime than to perpetrate one."

Read more about malware/cybercrime in CSOonline's Malware/Cybercrime section.

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