CATF Reports Mar. 17, 2017, 10:05am


The European Union released the second installment of its Europol-led report on March 9th titled “Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment” (SOCTA), which provides a comprehensive dive into organized crime data and recommendations based on a mounting complexity. The realm of organized crime in Europe grows more sophisticated as technology continues to revolutionize, and seems to be compelling increasingly tech-savvy countermeasures from Europe’s law enforcement.

Interestingly, the number of Organized Crime Groups (OCGs) currently under EU investigation has spiked from 3,600 to 5,000 since 2013. While the report emphasizes this increase is primarily indicative of a more thorough and “much improved intelligence picture”, it also underscores the wave of smaller, individual criminal enterprises surfacing and pushing new frontier through online technological advancements. Of these 5,000 OCGs, the report notes that 180 nationalities are represented and 60% of the suspected offenders are EU nationals, numbers that emphasize the importance of probing the specific instruments underpinning criminal activity.

Organized crime groups have steadily produced multi-billion dollar profits in Europe through traditional channels like trafficking drugs, illicit goods, firearms and people, fraud and money laundering. Profits from the drug market alone, of which one third of active OCGs are involved in, amount to $24 billion. However, trends are evolving in the way OCGs conduct business. The report highlights that diversified criminal portfolios are now on the rise and found that nearly 45% of OCGs currently practice “poly-criminality” through multiple illicit enterprises that enable them to mitigate risk and maximize profit. For example, the recent migration crisis has been exploited by many OCGs now offering smuggling services.

Furthermore, individual “criminal entrepreneurs” are now partnering to provide crime-as-a-service, or CaaS, often enabling novice offenders with the necessary skills to perpetrate various types of attacks. The online shopping market for CaaS is not new, but the report notes that the amount of criminal entrepreneurs offering their services and expertise is expanding, enabling quick and accessible gateways for those hopeful attackers lacking the technical proficiency. This model parallels society’s increasing digital presence and unfortunately props up the already burgeoning cybercrime levels. Entrepreneurs peddling crime-as-a-service offer toolkits and templates to a range of offenders “from entry-level to top-tier players”, like terrorists, with services ranging from bulletproof hosting, anonymization and botnet rental, to malware development, password cracking and firearms.

Darknet marketplaces have become a key vehicle for the CaaS model. While originally developed to safeguard privacy and confidentiality for legitimate business purposes, this anonymous network within the deep web is now a platform primarily exploited for illicit communication and activities ranging all types of criminal use, facilitating the trade of drugs, personal and credit card data, child sexual exploitation material and ransomware. Users can only access the platform through selected software programs like I2P, Freenet and The Onion Router (TOR), a tool that reported over 1.7 million users and 60,000 unique onion websites just two months ago. A study on TOR showed that “almost 57% of active sites could be classified as related to some form of illicit activity”.

The growing interconnectedness of CaaS and Darknet is problematic and tough to fully probe given its cryptic nature. Comments provided by the SOCTA Academic Advisory Group posit that the users of Darknet marketplaces signal a “new generation of criminals and inter-criminal relationships”, and further point out the emergence of flexible, loosely structured networks in addition to the already institutionalized hierarchical crime groups.

In light of the comprehensive data presented, Europol recommends prioritizing cybercrime, drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, organized property crime and human trafficking as the five current key threats. Finally, the agency proposes targeting the core of various types of organized crime by addressing the three central “cross-cutting threats” of online trade of illicit goods and services, such as CaaS, criminal finances and money laundering, and document fraud.

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