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Europol cyber report

So much has changed in the last year – but much has stayed the same in terms of cyber threats, as COVID-19 has enhanced existing problems, according to a report by the European Union policing agency, Europol.

Social engineering remains a top threat as it facilitates other crime; ransomware attacks have become more sophisticated, targeting specific organisations in the public and private sector through victim reconnaissance; and ransomware on third-parties also creates potential significant damage for others in the supply chain, such as critical infrastructure. Detection of online child sexual abuse material saw a sharp spike at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. Phishing, online scams and the spread of fake news became an ideal strategy for cyber-criminals seeking to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19.

These were among the topics in Europol’s seventh Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA). As for new trends, SIM swapping, which allows perpetrators to take over accounts, is one. The lifecycle of dark web market places has shortened and there is no clear dominant market that has risen over the past year. Tor remains the preferred infrastructure, however criminals have started to use other privacy-focused, decentralised marketplace platforms to sell illegal goods. ‘Online offender communities’ are evolving continually.

Europol defined its cyber priorities as: disruption of criminal activities, combating child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation, and targeting criminals involved in fraud and counterfeiting – especially card-not-present (CNP) fraud. On CNP fraud the report described it as continuing to increase ‘as criminals diversify in terms of target sectors and electronic skimming (e-skimming) modi operandi’. And online investment fraud is ‘one of the fastest growing crimes, generating millions in losses and affecting thousands of victims’.

You can download the 64-page report from the Europol website.


Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director said: “Cybercrime affects citizens, businesses and organisations across the EU. Europol plays a key role in countering cybercrime by working with our many partners in law enforcement and the private sector and by offering innovative solutions and effective, comprehensive support to investigations. I hope this analysis can inform effective responses to these evolving threats and make Europe safer.”

Chris Ross, SVP International at the cyber firm Barracuda Networks, said: “Due to remote working, the quantity of sensitive information and private details which have transitioned from a physical environment or local server, to an online or cloud environment, has surged, making certain public sector and private organisations much more appealing in the eye of the cyber attacker, hence the significant increase in malware and ransomware attacks aimed at businesses.

“Simultaneous to the increasing cyber threat facing companies during Covid-19, security standards, on average, have also dropped. In many cases, this is due to rushed or incomplete WFH business models, which, in a company’s haste to move employees from the office to home, have seen basic, but essential, remote working cyber security policies deprioritised or ignored. For example, we have increasingly seen companies employ a BYOD policy for home-workers, without protecting said devices with virtual private networks. This means that cyber attackers could potentially hack into home networks, via IoT devices, shared devices, or even unprotected, public or outdated WiFi networks.

“Combatting this issue requires an overhaul of cyber security policy – personal devices must be protected with a VPN, and companies should employ an AI-enabled inbox defence system, which can spot suspicious content and intercept potentially dangerous content, or flag an email compromise. Employees should also be sufficiently trained on the new cyber threatscape, and learn the best-practice security methods when working from a remote environment.”


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