The head of the new European Cybercrime Centre, writing exclusively for PublicServiceEurope.com, highlights the challenges ahead and warns those engaging in criminal behaviour that the EU is about to get tough
The importance of the internet and the development of cyberspace cannot be underestimated. The future growth prospects of the European Union depend on this development and the ability to keep secure information secure. The EU's population is much more 'wired', when compared to other parts of the globe – some 71 per cent compared to a global average of 36 per cent - and the majority of businesses, industry and governments depend fully on a robust and resilient internet.
If we think back to just over a decade ago, only about 7 per cent of the global population were using the internet. The iPad, iPhone and Kindle had not been invented and Mark Zuckerberg was still in university as captain of the fencing team. The EU had only 15 member states, there was no common currency and no global financial crises. Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Colonel Gadaffi were still entrenched in power.
Developments in the virtual world will be much faster than in the real world and we will immediately feel the impact of good and bad developments. Three unwanted developments can be singled out. Terrorism, espionage and organised crime will develop and take advantage of all of the possibilities in the cyber world. To this you can add black-hat hackers and hacktivists - and, of course, the future possibility of a full-scale cyber-attack on the critical infrastructure of a country or region.
The European Cybercrime Centre has got clear guidance on its tasks and responsibilities and this can be read in detail in the communication
on establishing a European Cybercrime Centre - issued on March 28 by the European Commission. Our primary task will be assisting member states in preventing, disrupting, investigating and prosecuting cybercrime. For, organised crime networks are increasingly migrating and developing their traditional criminal activities from the off-line world to the online world. They see the advantage of stealing money via hacking, cracking, spoofing, fraud, identity theft and by stealing corporate secrets they can profit from. Hate crime also flourishes in this 'anonymous' world and child abusers take similar advantage of the ability to act without leaving trace. And, unlike in the physical world, these cybercriminals do not have to meet.
Compared to the value chain in the off-line criminal world, the one in the online world is much shorter. You do not need to harvest the coca paste, refine it in hidden labs with illegal precursors, pack it and smuggle it from South America to the EU, cut it into smaller portions and eventually sell it on the streets. There are not lots of borders to cross or lots of chances for the police or customs to intercept. In the cyber world, you do not need to break into banks with guns to see if you can open the vault - you steal the valuable information with your PC or engage in billion euros value added tax fraud schemes, all without leaving your bed.
So we - as a society - are losing valuable data, money, ideas, innovation and private information every day. Together we need to find a way to stop this from happening. The European Cybercrime Centre has been established to assist member state law enforcement in this endeavour and to include all relevant stakeholders in this task. We will not be able to take responsibility for all the initiatives needed but the centre will focus on providing operational support to cases, coordination of intelligence inside the EU, coordinating capacity building, enhancing the way we assess the immediate and future threats and creating a trusted relationship with private and public partners inside the EU and abroad.
We will have a very inclusive approach. The centre will build on existing structures and work, and coordinate efforts to streamline the work and obtain the best possible results for the cheapest investment. Absolute security in cyberspace is not possible. But if we work together, we can do much more and achieve a safer cyber world for all. And we can create a much more secure digital infrastructure, which we can rely upon as the future 'engine' for our way out of the present economic recession. As it is now, cyber security is an endless game of defence - which is very costly and inefficient in the long run. We need to invest more in catching the perpetrators and make it unattractive to commit crime in cyberspace
At Europol, an implementation team is preparing for the opening of the centre in less than six months from now. We are preparing the delivery of a number of cases together with member states and with our assets - we aim to assist key stakeholders, build forensic expertise and produce publications on the future trends and developments in cybercrime. Amongst other work, we are preparing the so-called '2020 report' - drafted together with members of the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance plus a new Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment and a number of situation reports on - for example - 'bit-coin' and 'Dark-net'.
Add to this, a substantial trend report drafted for the Virtual Global Taskforce about the online sexual exploitation of children, which will be presented to a large seminar at the end of the year. In preparing for the future, we are depending on resources and even though we all face tough economic times - it is important to acknowledge that the new centre will not come for free - as European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in March 2012, when she presented the decision to establish the European Cybercrime Centre at Europol.Troels Oerting is assistant director of Europol and head of the European Cybercrime Centre