IDG Contributor Network: Tech crime as a service escalates

Criminals are increasingly offered crime as a service (CaaS) and are using sharing-economy ride-sharing and accommodation services, too, a major law enforcement agency says.

Europol, the European Union’s policing office says tech-oriented CaaS is being offered to swathes of the underbelly of Europe. Criminals gain an advantage because they can perform crimes better and more efficiently, and they can work at scales greater than their existing technical proficiency.

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An estimated 5,000 internationally operating crime gangs are currently being investigated in the trading bloc, according to Europol.

CaaS allows “even entry-level cybercriminals to carry out attacks of a scale disproportionate to their technical capability,” the agency says in its latest organized crime study (PDF).

And it doesn’t make any difference whether the crooks are “top-tier players” or entry-level; they are taking advantage of this new form of gangster outsourcing.

Tech disrupting traditional criminal markets

“Technology is a key component of most, if not all, criminal activities” undertaken by organized crime now, Europol says. And it’s disrupting traditional criminal markets just like legal online platforms have done in the regular economy.

“Virtually all illicit commodities are now traded online either on dedicated criminal online marketplaces or by exploiting otherwise legal online platforms,” the agency says.

The criminal offerings include surface web markets, which are used for stolen goods and fake prescription drugs. Legitimate photo sharing platforms are used, too. In that case, users scroll through images and communicate through direct messaging.

Below that visible-surface tier is the iceberg-mass-like hidden darknet (or dark web), which offers illegal drugs, child sexual exploitation material, cybercriminal services—such as those to create malware—and guns, Europol says.

CaaS such as DDoS, botnet hire and money laundering is also offered.

Prevalent cybercrime found includes malware and ID theft, cryptoware, network intrusion solutions to grab private data and intellectual property, and fraudulent payment orders and payment cards.

Advanced tech employed by the new-fangled crooks ranges from cutting-edge lighting for growing plants and increasing output to using ride-sharing and accommodation apps for facilitating migrant smuggling.

Voice over IP is used throughout the people-smuggling process, as is social media and instant messaging, the report explains. Social networks are increasingly used to discover whether a mark is absent from a “targeted residence.” Mapping apps are used to reconnoiter neighborhoods.

Internet enables criminal activity

The bad guys are ingenious and adaptable, the report says.

“Criminals quickly adopt and integrate new technologies into their modi operandi or build brand-new business models around them,” it says. That includes CaaS, which lets gangs operate a criminal enterprise without requiring infrastructure.

The internet is a “key enabler of criminal activity.” It’s unlike how organized crime and gangs have operated in the past.

It will continue to escalate, too, the experts say. “More accessible and cheaper high-performance drone technology,” for example, is expected to become a part of the arsenal.

“Cyber-dependent crime is underpinned by a mature CaaS model, providing easy access to the tools and services required to carry out cyber attacks,” the report says.

But what about old-school hoods? Should they worry about getting left behind? No worries there. It also appears that CaaS and the crime-utilized sharing-economy trend is taking off outside of tech offerings, too. Racketeering and extortion as a service—where groups lend out professional gangsters—is also trending.

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