EU to set up anti-cyber-crime centre

28.03.12 @ 23:12

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The European Commission proposed on Wednesday (28 March) a new European cybercrime centre that will help crack down major online criminal activities.

  • Cybercrime costs the global economy €290 billion annually. (Photo: banspy)

Last year, worldwide profits generated from cybercrime outstripped the global trade in marijuana, cocaine and heroin - combined.

“More than 1 million everyday become victims of cybercrime and you are probably one them,” EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels.

The massive profit margins are enticing more criminal activities to move their illicit businesses online. People are routinely falling victim to scams, identify theft, and credit card and banking fraud. Other criminals disrupt IT systems.

A study for the UK Home Office in 2011 found cybercrime was costing the country some €30 billion a year. In Germany, police recorded over 5,000 cases of phishing scams in 2010, up from 2,000 in 2008.

A lucrative market

Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency based in The Hague, will house the new cybercrime centre when it becomes operational on 1 January 2013.

Malmstrom called the new facility “a hub for co-operation in defending an internet that is free, open and safe”.

Around 30 full-time experts will be staffed at the centre but this should increase to 55 when it becomes fully operational by the end of the 2013.

With an estimated initial annual budget of €3.6 million, the centre will be tasked to help stem a global threat that reportedly costs its victims up to €290 billion a year.

As the threat level increases, the Commission fears people’s confidence to go online will wane. Currently, only 4 percent of all sales in Europe are generated online.

Nearly three quarters of European households had internet access last year. In 2010, over a third of EU citizens were banking online. These figures are also on the rise.

But with credit card details selling for as little as €1, Europeans may think twice before punching in numbers from the comfort of their own homes to make an online purchase. Counterfeited physical credit cards go for €140 while bank credentials can sell for only €60.

Borderless crimes more difficult to stop

The borderless nature of cybercrime also makes cracking down on criminals an excessively difficult task for national authorities.

Malmstrom pointed out that jurisdictional boundaries and a lack of information sharing present “huge obstacles to the swift detection, investigation and prosecution of cyber criminals.”

Online child pornography, for instance, often involves hundreds of victims with perpetrators spread across numerous countries. Authorities tackling such crimes are faced with multiple jurisdictions and data that are not always shared in a timely manner.

Similar conclusions were made at a seminar on internet child pornography, hosted by the Danish EU presidency in February.

And while Europol already has a team dedicated to cybercrime, it is unable to efficiently gather information from various sources. It is also unable to respond to queries from law enforcement authorities, the judiciary and the private sector.

The new cybercrime centre aims to fill this gap and provide a more collaborative response by pooling the knowledge of numerous crime-stopping agencies. This includes the UK-based police training agency (CEPOL), the European agency responsible for information security (ENSIA), and the European Cybercrime Task Force.

The centre will consult the expertise of industry and civil society, but its full-time staff will come from member states, the European Commission, and Europol itself.

Despite being under Europol auspices, the centre will have a separate management board, says Malmstrom though the Commission still needs to seek the endorsement by the Europol management board.

Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol on Wednesday said he is “delighted that the Commission has proposed its establishment at Europol”, calling it “a landmark development in the EU’s fight against cybercrime.”

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