European Police Warn of Metaverse Cyber-Threats

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The coming wave of immersive internet experiences dubbed “the metaverse” could be a magnet for ransomware, identity theft, money laundering and much more, Europol has warned.

A new report from the Europol Innovation Lab, Policing in the metaverse: what law enforcement needs to know, urges police forces to start thinking now about the challenges and opportunities created by the metaverse.

It cited figures from Gartner predicting that by 2026, a quarter (25%) of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse. However, money and people will also attract cyber-criminals.

The report specifically warned of an elevated threat from:

  • Ransomware targeting devices such as VR headsets
  • Identity theft/fraud made possible by stealing users’ biometric details and creating more realistic deepfakes
  • Money laundering via a range of decentralized, specialized cryptocurrencies, as well as non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
  • Harassment and child abuse and exploitation, including grooming, the sharing of sexual abuse content, and potentially the use of haptics and tactile technology to physically interact with victims
  • Terrorist propaganda, recruitment and training
  • Targeted mis- and disinformation

However, despite the potential for cyber-criminals and others to misuse the metaverse, police are also hopeful it will offer them new ways to fight crime more effectively.

This includes the potential for improved collaboration between remote police teams, more realistic ‘virtual’ training programs, and the use of virtual crime scenes to enhance judge and jury understanding of key events during a trial.

The report even suggested that the metaverse could be used to rehabilitate criminals by helping to create awareness of and empathy for victims’ experiences.

Whatever form the metaverse will eventually take, police must start interacting with it now, and the companies creating it, in order to make it a safer place from the beginning, it concluded.

“We recommend law enforcement to monitor the development of the metaverse and to start building experience with online policing and early iterations of the metaverse,” the report said. “Doing this officially will help organizations stay informed on the subject and enable them to assess developments accurately, answering threats as they emerge.”

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