Europol Declare 3600 Organized Crime Groups in EU

The EU Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) 2013 is published today by Europol. It paints a picture of increasingly globalized and organized crime that engages in both cyber crime on the internet, and physical crime facilitated by the internet. “The internet,” says the report, “enables OCGs 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 spread of the internet and technological advances have caused significant shifts in crime areas and the pattern of criminal activity.” Profit-driven cybercrime is both and end in itself, and “an enabler for other criminal activity.”

The report notes that some terrorist groups use common crime to help finance the organization of terrorism, but suggests “contact between OCGs and terrorist groups is currently only a very marginal phenomenon in the EU.” For the most part, current cybercrime revolves around the various forms of cyber fraud as a means of profit for the criminal gang itself. One example is known as ‘missing trader intra community’ (MTIC) fraud. A trader imports goods with a zero VAT levy and sells on to a second trader with tax added. That added tax should then be passed to the government – but instead, the trader goes missing, taking the tax with him. 

“Activities related to MTIC fraud can be directed remotely using the internet,” notes Europol. “MTIC fraud deprives states of tax revenue required to make investments, maintain public sector services and service sovereign debt. The EU is yearly losing an estimated 100 billion Euros of MTIC income.”

However, it is the nature of the internet and its users that makes this and all other types of cyber fraud attractive and possible. “The internet offers multiple opportunities for organized crime,” says Europol. “It facilitates the search for and accessing of information, the targeting of victims, the concealing of criminal activities, the arrangement of logistics, recruitment, distribution, the laundering of criminal proceeds and creates previously unknown criminal markets. The ongoing global development of internet infrastructures and their widespread use for legitimate activities has become a major factor in the proliferation of serious and organized crime.”

This is only going to get worse. “This increase will closely mirror the growth of the attack surface, as the internet becomes even more essential to everyday life.” Although the potential for the Internet of Things to impact on cyber crime is not mentioned, the growth of personal devices and the consumerization of IT “will potentially offer new opportunities for hackers to breach corporate environments and misuse - or hold hostage - the information within them.” Similarly, the mainstream adoption of cloud services will present further opportunities to criminals where “consumers and corporate users will routinely access online resources using virtual computing environments with varying levels of personal data protection.”

The report is a threat assessment rather than a solution evaluation: it analyzes current and emerging threats associated with organized crime groups. Nevertheless, it concludes, “OCGs exploit a lack of awareness, are quick to identify new criminal opportunities and use weaknesses to their advantage. Social tolerance of certain types of crimes, which is generally regarded as victimless, will continue to strengthen organized crime if perceptions remain unchanged.” So if there is any single user solution to the threat of OCGs suggested by this report, it is an urgent requirement for greater user awareness to that threat.

That said, Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, uses the report to demand stronger action from the EU itself. “Through a recent expansion of the ‘black market’ and notable developments in fraudulent activity criminal groups are denying governments, businesses, and citizens billions of Euros each year in lost tax receipts, profits, and private income. Stronger action is needed in the EU to close down these criminal activities and protect our economic base,” he warns.

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