Last week a new study from Europol argued that modern tech is at the heart of modern criminality across the continent, with everything from fraud and money laundering to the black market operating in the digital realm and, ultimately, leading to further misdeeds being funded.
BBC News reports that police organisations throughout Europe are facing a significant challenge in terms of the ways that gangs of crooks are able to harness IT and use it for their nefarious ends. This has even led to a blossoming of the number of criminal organisations that exist in this part of the world, with over 5,000 different groups being watched as part of Europol’s current operations.
A further obstacle to progress being made in the fight against cybercrime is the fact that these gangs can take many forms, from tightly organised business-like groups that make major profits from their global activities and interests, to less structured but not less problematic affiliations of tech-savvy crooks operating across a wide area.
Aside from the money making potential offered in the digital realm, cybercrime is particularly appealing to this type of individual or organisation because of the very fact that it is not especially complex to carry out and carries relatively little risk of retaliation. This has led to an explosion in online fraud, hacking and other types of attack in recent years, creating an ever-growing issue which police forces and agencies like Europol have to tackle.
A successful cyber campaign is a self-perpetuating engine behind criminal organisations which will likely have far broader, more damaging projects underway within the same umbrella of operations. So when ransomware infects a system and the victims choose to pay to get their data back, this cash could well be used to fund human trafficking and the illegal drugs trade, the study claims.
The report’s authors point out that this means technology is the core tool and asset of contemporary criminality – the foundation upon which all other serious crimes are built. Furthermore, the use of IT assets and associated resources is enabling gangs to wring more money out of traditional rackets, meaning they do not even necessarily have to change their tactics in order to generate income.
This is not just a problem that is limited to the cyber sphere of intangible digital attacks, but something which has an impact in the physical world. For example, agencies have noted the growing use of drone technology in the smuggling and distribution of illegal substances, using airborne transport to do so safely and with less likelihood of suffering the consequences of being caught.
Social media is also put in the firing line, with Europol indicating that criminals are keeping tabs on the posts made by individuals to work out where they might be at a given time and use this information to tell whether or not their property is occupied, making thefts simpler to carry out.
The number of burglaries reported in many European nations is on the rise as a direct result of this, showing that more awareness about the dangers of using social media irresponsibly needs to be raised to abate this increase.
The seemingly insurmountable task of containing the criminal threats perpetuated by technology is one which faces lawmakers and enforcement organisations not just in the UK and Europe, but around the world. And because the use of technology is only set to increase in everyday life, more potential avenues for exploitation will be opening all the time.
Businesses and individual tech users will need to do their best to protect themselves and stay on top of emerging cybercrime developments, or else face the prospect of becoming victims at best and unwitting contributors to organised crime at worst.