Europol: “Virtually All” Crime Now Has a Digital Element

“Virtually all” criminal activities have an online component to them, while many have fully migrated online, according to a new report by Europol.

The 2021 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) highlighted how criminals are increasingly incorporating digital technologies into their activities, a trend that has been exacerbated in the last year amid COVID-19 lockdowns. This includes in areas like communication and finances, making crimes harder for law enforcement agencies to detect and track down.

The growth of encrypted communication channels and social media has made it easier cyber-criminals to advertise their services to a wider range of people, while the shift to online shopping has "entailed a steep increase in the use of small parcels, via postal or express courier services, to distribute illicit goods." The study additionally noted that new money laundering techniques involving cyptocurrencies have proliferated recently.

The analysis, which is published every four years, also found that cyber-attacks have both increased in prevalence and become more sophisticated since the previous SOCTA report in 2017. The authors also believe cyber-dependent crime is significantly underreported, meaning the picture is far worse than official figures show.

This trend has been exacerbated by the shift to digital services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report stated: “During 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge in connections from private to corporate systems as telework became the norm in many sectors and industries. This development has made many corporate networks more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.”

Europol added that the increasing availability of cybercrime services online has made it easier for criminals without technological expertise to use tools such as malware, ransomware and DDoS. As well as having the ability to purchase cybercrime services and tools, they can receive technical expertise and support via this crime-as-a-service model. 

Europol noted: “Criminals are digital natives. Virtually all criminal activities now feature some online component and many crimes have fully migrated online. Criminals exploit encrypted communications to network among each other, use social media and instant messaging services to reach a larger audience to advertise illegal goods, or spread disinformation.”

Commenting on the findings, Ilia Kolochenko CEO, founder and chief architect at ImmuniWeb said: “The insightful report emphasizes that both street and organized crime are gradually leveraging digital transformation to hinder police investigations, increase profits and expand criminal businesses globally.

“We are dealing with a mature, well-organized and international network of crime. Sadly, most law enforcement agencies are currently unequipped and understaffed to timely discover, intercept and decrypt digital communications from perpetrators.”

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