Europol warns of ‘relentless growth’ in cybercrime acts

EU’s law enforcement agency says new approaches needed to tackle cybercrime

Cybercrime is growing at an unprecedented rate with some EU Member States reporting that such criminal acts may have surpassed more traditional crimes, according to a new study.

Europol, the law enforcement agency of the European Union, said in its report that "the volume, scope and material cost of cybercrime all remain on an upward trend and have reached very high levels."

"The relentless growth of cybercrime remains a real and significant threat to our collective security in Europe. Europol is concerned about how an expanding cybercriminal community has been able to further exploit our increasing dependence on technology and the Internet. We have also seen a marked shift in cyber-facilitated activities relating to trafficking in human beings, terrorism and other threats," said the agency's director Rob Wainwright.

Highly profitable

According to the 2016 Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) study, an expansion both in the number of people involved in cybercrimes and in opportunities to engage in highly profitable illegal activities has led to a “relentless growth” in such crimes.


The report also notes the development of new cybercrime tools in areas such as ATM fraud and mobile malware. However, it stresses that many crimes are due to individuals and businesses failing to take adequate steps to protect themselves.

“It should be noted that the majority of reported attacks are neither sophisticated nor advanced. While it is true that in some areas cybercriminals demonstrate a high degree of sophistication in the tools, tactics and processes they employ, many forms of attack work because of a lack of digital hygiene, a lack of security by design and a lack of user awareness,” the study’s authors said.

“Nevertheless, a variety of new and innovative modi operandi have been discovered, combining existing approaches, exploiting new technology or identifying new targets. The proliferation and evolution of malware attacks directly against ATMs, indications of compromised payments involving contactless (NFC) cards and the recent attacks against the SWIFT system are examples of this development,” they added.


The study notes a number of notable cybercrime trends that are causing particular concern to authorities. These include ransomware, online child sex abuse, social engineering crimes and payment fraud.

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre supported 131 successful cyber operations in 2015, up from 72 operations a year earlier, the study shows. However, the report’s authors said authorities need to take a more sophisticated approach in order to combat criminal activity.

“Law enforcement, policy makers, legislators, academia and training providers need to become even more adaptive and agile in addressing the phenomenon. Existing frameworks, programmes and tools are often too slow and bureaucratic to allow for a timely and effective response,” the authors said.

“Rather than multiple partners investing in and developing the same highly specialised skill-sets and expertise, perhaps a more effective, high-level model would be for law enforcement and relevant partners to focus on distinct core competencies and to make them available to others ‘as a service,’ they added.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist