COVID-19 Exacerbated Existing Cybercrime Patterns, Europol Says

Europol has published its seventh Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA), the agency’s annual cybercrime report containing updates on the latest trends and effects of cybercrime in the European Union and beyond.

Much has changed since last year’s IOCTA edition, yet some things are still the same, the agency notes.

“Although the COVID-19 crisis showed us how criminals actively take advantage of society at its most vulnerable, this opportunistic behavior of criminals should not overshadow the overall threat landscape,” according to the press release issued this week. “In many cases, COVID-19 has enhanced existing problems.”

Key findings from this year’s report include:

  • Criminals quickly exploited the pandemic to attack vulnerable people
  • Phishing, online scams and the spread of fake news became an effective strategy for cybercriminals seeking to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19
  • Ransomware attacks have become more sophisticated, targeting specific organizations in the public and private sector through victim reconnaissance
  • Criminals have added another layer to their ransomware attacks by threatening to auction off stolen data, increasing the pressure on victims to pay the ransom
  • Traditional banking Trojans have evolved into modular malware to cover more PC digital fingerprints, which are later sold for different needs
  • Detection of online child sexual abuse material jumped sharply at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis; offenders use P2P networks, social networking platforms, and encrypted communications to hide their crimes
  • SIM swapping, which allows criminals to port victims’ SIMs to their own phones and thwart multi-factor authentication, is a new entry in this year’s IOCTA trends section
  • While Tor remains the preferred dark web platform, criminals have started to use other privacy-focused, decentralised marketplace platforms to sell their illegal goods – chief among them is OpenBazaar

“The Coronavirus Pandemic has slowed many aspects of our normal lives,” EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said. “But it has unfortunately accelerated online criminal activity. Organised Crime exploits the vulnerable, be it the newly unemployed, exposed businesses, or, worst of all, children. This report shows the urgent need for the EU to step up the fight against organised crime [online] and confirms the essential role of Europol in that fight.”

Readers can download the full IOCTA 2020 report here.

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