Europol published a report that highlights how criminals organizations are adapting their operations attempting to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trend is similar to the one observed during previous financial crises, but the speed of the criminal phenomena is higher. Immediately after the pandemic started criminal organizations attempted to monetize their efforts with Coronavirus-themed attacks and by selling COVID-19 products in the underground markets.
Experts observed a significant increase in the number of scams promoting masks, test kits, disposable latex gloves, and other products to contain the virus.
The report attempts to anticipate developments across the threat landscape that will have an operational impact on law enforcement agencies across Europe. Europol also identifies five key factors that could influence organised crime during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cybercriminals have been very quick in devising modi operandi and tools to exploit the current crisis.” reads the report published by the Europol.
“New and adapted attacks appeared almost immediately from the onset of the crisis and have been among the most visible types of criminality during the COVID-19 pandemic. In part, this is due to our reliance on digital and online solutions during the lockdown to work remotely and maintain
contacts with colleagues, friends and family.”
The European police are assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across three phases; current, mid- and long-term phases.
Experts observed an initial spike in cybercriminal operations with the beginning of the pandemic, then the agency observed a decrease toward the end of April.
The level of complexity of the operations increased over time, especially when the virus reached Europe.
“For instance, the cybercriminals shortened the period between the initial infection with ransomware and the activation of the ransomware attack not waiting for an ideal moment to launch the attack but trying as soon as
possible to maximise profits.” states the agency.
“Another worrying development has been the increase in activities related to the distribution of child abuse material online and the conversations
of potential offenders around the increased accessibility and vulnerability of children online due to isolation, less supervision and greater online
The increase in activities related to online child pornography is worrisome, while there has been a limited impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the level of terrorist threats to the European states.
Europol continues to observe on a daily base the trading of counterfeit pharmaceutical and healthcare products.
In the mid-term, criminal operations will return to previous levels featuring the same type of activities as before the pandemic, but the authorities warn that the outbreak has created new opportunities for criminal activities that will be exploited beyond the end of the crisis.
In the long term, Europol expects that mafia-type organized crime groups will attempt to take advantage of a crisis and persistent economic hardship by recruiting vulnerable young people, engaging in loan-sharking, extortion and racketeering.
“Based on experience gained during prior crises, it is essential to monitor these factors to anticipate developments and pick up on warning signals.
“Serious and organised crime is exploiting the changing circumstances during the pandemic. From the onset of this crisis, Europol monitored these developments to help Member States understand and tackle these emerging phenomena. The full impact of the pandemic – not only on crime but also more widely on society and the economy – is not yet apparent. However, law enforcement should be prepared to be able to respond to the warning signals as the world deals with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, international policing needs to work with the increased connectivity both in the physical and virtual worlds.” Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle. “This crisis again proves that exchanging criminal information is essential to fighting crime within the law enforcement community. Europol, as the criminal information hub for all law enforcement organisations, will continue to play its part. ”
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