The European Union is set to establish a dedicated cybercrime centre at the beginning of 2013 aimed at tackling online operations of organised crime groups, ranging from e-banking fraud to online child sexual exploitation.
As a part of a bigger strategy to encourage e-commerce, Brussels announced yesterday (28 March) the establishment of a cybercrime centre to counter the online activities of organised crime.
The centre will be set up next in the offices of Europol, the European law enforcement agency based in The Hague. Europol already deals with computer crimes, but the centre is expected to increase this activity with new staff, up to 55 full-time employees, and an annual budget of €3.6 billion.
Yet the centre faces considerable obstacles: Gathering tips and information from a diverse region with multiple police jurisdictions and a private sector that may be hesitant to cooperate.
“Since cyberspace and the Internet’s infrastructure are for the most part owned by the private sector, only a shared, cross-community approach will bring enduring results in the fight against cybercrime,” says a Commission statement.
Telecoms companies that mostly own the networks have in the past staunchly opposed any move to transform them into what they call "cops of the net". Cost and responsibility linked to such an activity are considered too burdensome. Taking these reluctant actors on board will be another key test to measure the cybercrime centre effectiveness.
Cybercrime costs billions
Symantec Corporation's Norton online security unit estimates that cybercrime costs €85 billion annually and says people are much more likely to fall victim to online crime rather than off-line crime.
The most common cybercrimes are viruses and malware which attack remote computers, damaging them or stealing private information.
“More than 1 million people become victims of cybercrime every day,” EU Home Affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström told press conference in Brussels.
Economic crimes are on the rise with criminal groups specialising in stealing sensitive data, such as passwords or credit card numbers. There is a flourishing black market for private financial data such as credit card details.
Tackling this growing phenomenon has long been among the priorities of many international and national organisations. European institutions are particularly keen to eradicate illegal activities as they push forward borderless e-commerce.
The online market could indeed tear down the last frontiers that hamper the functioning of a proper EU internal market. But dangers posed by cybercrime may delay the emergence of a truly European online market, as consumers remain wary of internet purchasing.
The centre will also concentrate on making the Web more secure for the millions of young Europeans who use it extensively and set up online profiles in social networks and other platforms.
Risks associated with social networks are not marginal. Between 250,000 and 600,000 Facebook accounts are blocked every day to stop hacking attempts, says the Commission.
Towards a directive on cyberattacks
Meanwhile, a new directive aimed at preventing and countering cyberattacks against strategic infrastructure is getting closer to approval by the EU institutions.
This week, the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament endorsed a new text with an overwhelming majority, paving the way to an easy adoption by the plenary in the coming weeks.
An agreement with member states is likely to be reached before the summer break.
Under the proposed rules, attacks on strategic electronic systems would become a criminal offence punishable by at least two years in prison throughout the EU. The move follows the massive cyberattack conducted against Estonia in 2007 (see background).