IOCTA 2023: cybercrime has become big business

According to the Europol report on the evolution of cybercrime from a law enforcement perspective, we need to move away from the cliché of a lone, hooded figure typing on a computer and adapt to the current and future reality: groups of criminals operating as commercial syndicates beyond the front lines.

The ninth edition of Europol’s Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) takes an in-depth look at the online criminal ecosystem and examines the prominent players, their attack vectors and the role of victims.

The realm of cybercrime has transformed into a lucrative industry, complete with a clandestine economy that sustains it through support from service providers, recruiters, and financial facilitators. The rise of cyberattacks presents a daunting challenge for law enforcement as multiple specialised actors from around the world complicate the investigation process.

Europol’s IOCTA strives to offer insights into contemporary cybercrime, empowering law enforcement with the necessary knowledge to combat it effectively. This document and the accompanying modules are based on operational information provided to Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, combined with expert knowledge and open-source intelligence. The focus and structure of the report is as follows:

  • Cybercrime services are intertwined and their effectiveness is co-dependent.
  • Similar techniques for different objectives.
  • The core product is stolen data.
  • Same victims, multiple crimes.
  • Clandestine communities to educate and recruit cybercriminals.
  • What happens to the criminal proceeds?
  • Europol’s support.

The current summary presents the main findings on the different typologies of cybercrime, i.e. cyberattacks, online fraud schemes and online child sexual exploitation.

With this latest study presented by Europol, it is clear that cybercrime, in its various forms, represents a growing threat to the European Union.

Cyberattacks, online child sexual exploitation and online fraud are very complex crimes that manifest themselves in very diverse typologies. Criminals continue to show high levels of adaptability to new technologies and societal developments, while constantly improving their cooperation and specialisation.

Cybercrime is wide-ranging and causes very serious harm to public and private individuals, organisations and the EU’s economy and security.


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European Council works for better civil protection preparedness

The European Council adopted conclusions on the need to strengthen the resilience of society as a whole in the context of civil protection, including preparedness for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.

The landscape of the various threats in Europe has changed and become more complex. The preparedness of European societies in light of the various risks facing the population is essential, and there is a key role to play for civil protection to enhance the resilience of society.

In view of the increasing number of complex and long-lasting crises that Europe is facing, from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine or earthquakes, to the COVID-19 pandemic or forest fires, the resilience of the European Union needs to be increased. This requires a collective approach of the whole society and must involve civil society actors, citizens and the private sector.

The European Council invites the Member States to:

  • Support prevention and preparedness actions by promoting the implementation of disaster resilience goals.
  • Consider the subsequent development of public-private cooperation practices that improve civil protection activities in prevention, preparedness and response.
  • Actively participate in new awareness and preparedness initiatives at the Union level that focus on preparing people for various crises or disasters.
  • Provide and register enhanced capabilities relevant to CBRN in the European Civil Protection Pool (ECPP).
  • Improve cooperation within the European Council to support the coordination of communication and information actions, both in preparation for and in response to possible CBRN incidents.

As for actions at the European Union level and to mitigate the CBRN threats it faces, the Member States ask the Commission to:

  • Improve CBRN early warning capacity, ensuring a quick, effective and timely response.
  • Explore possibilities to facilitate the procurement of CBRN equipment by Member States and identify ways to further reduce capability deployment times in case of CBRN incidents.
  • Increase market access to different types of equipment, supplies and material relevant to CBRN by providing long-term purchasing predictability.
  • Organize more regular civil protection CBRN training and exercises.


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Politically motivated crimes in Germany on the rise for another year

The number of politically motivated crimes increased again in Germany in 2022 by more than 7% to 58,916 crimes, which is a new all-time high since this figure was introduced in the statistics in 2001. Furthermore, the number of politically motivated violent crimes also increased by 4% to 4,043 crimes.

The data were presented in a report in early May by German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. According to the minister, of particular concern is the sharp increase in attacks against refugees, which rose by 9% during 2022, highlighting that right-wing extremism continues to present a particularly high risk.

According to the document submitted by the German government, neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists committed 1,170 violent attacks in 2022 against immigrants, refugees and political opponents. At least 675 people were injured in these attacks.

German police also recorded 5,372 xenophobic incidents, 2,641 anti-Semitic crimes and 610 Islamophobic hate crimes. In these events, some 62 mosques were attacked between January and December last year, and at least 39 people were injured as a result of anti-Muslim violence, according to official data.

Germany has witnessed increasing racism in recent years, fuelled by the propaganda of far-right groups and parties, which have taken advantage of the refugee crisis and tried to fuel fear of immigrants. Faced with this situation, the government proposes a two-pronged solution to extremism: prevention and rigour. They also advocate well-equipped security agencies, consistent law enforcement, political education, strong civil society and urgent tightening of gun laws.

The threat of Islamist terrorism remains quite high. After the Castrop-Rauxel case in early January, the second suspected Islamist attack this year 2023 in Hamburg was recently prevented.

At the same time, climate protests during 2022 have become a clear focus of crime from the left field, when 1,585 were recorded. This corresponds to approximately a doubling with respect to the year 2021.

Likewise, 206 crimes in the field of misogyny and 417 in the field of gender diversity were reported to the Federal Criminal Police Office. It should also be noted that the so-called new thematic areas were created during 2020 in order to better record the different phenomena.

For example, the thematic area called “gender and sexual identity”, which registered 340 crimes during 2021, experienced an increase of more than 42% for violent crimes in 2022. Another area recently created is in the field of sexual orientation, where homophobic crimes are recorded. There was a 15% increase in cases in 2022, to 1,005 cases, although the police forces believe that in these areas there is a particularly high number of crimes not reported or notified.


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US road fatalities show alarming racial gap

Earlier this year, architectural designer and founder of Segregation by Design, Adam Paul Susaneck, published an article in The New York Times in which he mentioned different studies with a common denominator: the urban design of American cities is partly to blame for the alarming number of hit-and-runs and their racial disparities.

An estimated 19 pedestrians per day, on average, were hit by cars in the United States during 2022. It is worth noting that during 2021 pedestrian fatalities reached a 40-year all-time high.

While these fatalities increased significantly in all settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates of Hispanic and African-American pedestrian fatalities were significantly higher than those of white pedestrians.

A study published in 2022 by Harvard and Boston University shed more light on this phenomenon by studying the distance travelled by different racial groups when driving, walking or cycling. They found that African-American people were more than twice as likely to be hit by a vehicle per mile walked than white pedestrians. For African-American cyclists, the risk of mortality per mile was 4.5 times higher than for white cyclists.

Susaneck believes that city design is partly responsible for these worrisome disparities. Pedestrian and cyclist injuries tend to be concentrated in poorer neighbourhoods that have a higher proportion of African-American and Hispanic residents. These neighbourhoods have a common history of underinvestment in basic road safety measures, such as streetlights, zebra crossings and pavements, and overinvestment in automotive infrastructure designed to speed up the passage of people who do not live there.

Recent research from the University of North Carolina found that inner-city neighbourhoods targeted for neighbourhood clearance in the mid-century saw residences and businesses destroyed to allow for new arterial roads and highways to be built. The study proved a profound statistical association with increased pedestrian fatalities.

According to the study, decades of civic neglect, collapsing property values and the flight of white citizens further affected pedestrian safety. The maintenance of pavements in many cities is up to the owners, but they were wearing out along with the empty buildings, so a walk down the street to a bus stop or a shop became a dangerous journey.

In this regard, a study of road conditions in Florida found that the probability of a crash involving a pedestrian was three times higher per mile on roads without pavements.

The US can reverse the trend of rising traffic fatalities, a trend that disproportionately affects Hispanic and African-American communities, by investing in safer road design: narrowing streets, reducing the amount of space devoted to cars, enforcing speed limits, and planting trees to provide visual cues for drivers to slow down. Although these interventions may seem simplistic compared to the scale of the problem, other countries have shown that they do work. Urban planners should recognise that everyone must be able to walk or ride a bicycle in their neighbourhood without fearing for their lives.


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How organised crime infiltrates Europe’s ports

In early April this year, Europol published a joint analysis report with the Security Steering Committee of the ports of Antwerp, Hamburg/Bremerhaven and Rotterdam that analyses the risks and challenges for police posed by criminal networks in European Union ports.

Criminal networks, driven by the constant desire to increase profits and the expansion of their illegal activities, increasingly work towards infiltration and control of the main logistical points. Therefore, EU ports are a clear example of these large centres. Among the main current characteristics of these logistics points are the following:

  • The use of embezzled container reference codes (or so-called ‘PIN code fraud’) is gaining traction among criminal networks as a modus operandi to extract illicit goods from ports.
  • Criminal networks organise port infiltration by coordinating local networks of corrupted insiders.
  • As a side effect of criminal operations in the ports and the rivalry that goes with it, violence often occurs from the main transportation hubs to the streets of the surrounding cities, where competition for distribution takes place.

The main recommendations offered by the report are:

  • Further improve the exchange of international information on the activities of criminal networks in ports with Europol and between EU Member States.
  • Pay continuous attention to the integration of safety elements in the design of port infrastructure.
  • Implement public partnerships to involve all essential port stakeholders to address the infiltration of criminal networks in EU ports.

EU seaports handle some 90 million containers each year, but authorities can only inspect between 2% and 10%. Meanwhile, it is estimated that at least 200 tons of cocaine have been trafficked through the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam alone in recent years. This logistical obstacle represents a challenge for law enforcement and an opportunity for criminal networks that need access to logistical centres to facilitate their criminal activities. As a result, these networks have infiltrated ports on all continents.

Europe’s three largest ports, namely Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, are among those that suffer most from criminal infiltration. The main way in which criminals do this is by corrupting shipping company personnel, port workers, importers, transport companies and representatives of national authorities, among other actors, whose actions are necessary to ensure the entry of illegal shipments. However, this approach requires the corruption of a large number of accomplices.

To focus their efforts and minimise the risk of loss of goods, organised criminals are looking for a new modus operandi that requires the corruption of far fewer individuals. Europol’s analysis report on criminal networks in EU ports analyses one specific technique, which exploits embezzled container reference codes. This requires the corruption of a single individual, along with Trojan horse-style corruption or infiltration of the extraction teams, who are then paid between 7 and 15% of the value of the illegal shipment.


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Promising assessment for hot-spot police on London Underground

This policing strategy was designed to deter crime on platforms in high-crime areas of the London Underground. The programme was rated promising, indicating that the implementation of the programme resulted in the expected outcomes.

The programme, implemented in 2012, was released in 2022 by the National Institute of Justice, taking advantage of public policies currently being implemented aimed at ensuring a greater sense of security on public transportation. The study concludes that platforms in London Underground treatment areas had statistically significant reductions in service calls and crime, relative to the control group, on patrol and non-patrol days.

The premise behind the underground intervention was that patrols would act as a deterrent because people would be less likely to commit a crime in the presence of a police officer for fear of being detected and, ultimately, punished.

Each London Underground station has multiple platforms. Each platform offers only one direction of travel per track. There are at least two closed areas at most stations: one for trains going in one direction and one for trains going in the other. If police are present on one platform, they cannot be seen on the other.

Twenty uniformed officers were chosen and trained to carry out foot patrols on hot-spot platforms (if uniformed officers left due to normal turnover, they were replaced by other uniformed officers). Uniformed officers normally patrolled on foot in teams of two. The officers patrolled the platforms during peak hours and on the marked days of the platforms noted above, which were Wednesday through Saturday between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Depending on the travel distance between their assigned hot spots, each two-person patrol unit was responsible for three to five hot spots. Patrol units were asked to guard these spots, four times each day for 15 minutes at a time and attend hot spots in a random or unpredictable order to avoid predictability of visits. In addition, they were encouraged to interact with transport users and avoid remaining inactive on the platforms.

The officers were not tasked with problem solving or community policing in the classic sense or targeting their efforts at any particular category of crime. Immediately following each patrol team’s 15-minute visit, the officers were to board a train and travel to the next platform. Each patrol team was debriefed daily by the sergeants.

A member of the research team held monthly meetings with all officers, sergeants, and senior officers, where the importance of fidelity to planning was communicated. During these meetings, the investigator provided feedback to the officers on particular noteworthy incidents and crime figures for the previous month. The work carried out amounted to 416 police patrols per hot spot for 6 months. The total figure for the 58 hot spots in the study was about 5,000 hours.

In addition, various measures were taken to structure and limit the overflow attributable to police presence:

  • The shifts always started at the main offices of the British Transport Police, without the need for police presence at the control platforms.
  • Officers participating in the study moved between hot spots by riding the trains, although they had to walk through a nearby station to and from a platform at the beginning and end of each shift.
  • Officers were asked (without disclosing the location of the control platforms) to follow tracks passing through the control platforms in their traffic between treatment platforms, to avoid spill-over effects.


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Study of road safety from a gender perspective

During the month of March, 2023, a study carried out by the Directorate-General for Traffic on the situation of road accidents from the perspective of gender in Spain was presented.

The report has taken into account existing studies in this area and has been completed with a descriptive analysis of the road accident situation from a gender perspective with data from 2015 to 2019, presented with a series of actions and recommendations.

The higher number of men killed and injured in traffic accidents has been mainly related to their greater exposure to traffic compared to women (World Health Organization, 2002) and to the adoption of risky behaviours, such as speeding, alcohol consumption or less use of seat belts.

In addition, there is sufficient evidence to show that men, especially young men, tend to have more aggressive behaviour compared to women in most cultures, and this factor has a very important impact on driving, since it encourages more competitive and hostile behaviour and, consequently, increases the chances of having a traffic accident.

An analysis of accident statistics shows that there is a higher percentage of male victims in traffic accidents. In Spain, during 2019, 79% of those killed and 72% of those hospitalised as a result of a traffic accident were men. Likewise, men have a higher rate of deaths per population than women in all age groups, especially in the 35 to 44, 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 age groups, where the most notable differences are found (almost seven times higher than the rate for women).

Regarding men, the percentage of victims killed/hospitalised is higher on interurban roads (56%) than in urban areas (44%). In the case of women, urban roads account for more victims (52%).

On interurban roads, 75% of the victims are men and 25% are women. On the other hand, on urban roads, men represent 68% and women 32%.

As for the mode of transport used by the victims killed or hospitalised, it varies quite a lot between the sexes: men mainly use motorcycles (35%) and passenger cars (28%), and women travel mainly in passenger cars (41%) and as pedestrians (36%).

If we study alcohol and drug use, the highest percentages of positive results correspond to men, both in alcohol and drug use. Women represent a positivity rate of 8% for alcohol and drugs. On the contrary, among males the positivity is 21% for alcohol and 14% for drugs.

There are also notable differences in the use of seat belts. While among deceased or hospitalised victims who are female drivers of passenger cars or vans, the use of seat belts is 93%, among men it drops to 83%.

Fifty-nine percent of passengers killed or hospitalised are women, compared to 41% of men. Among non-hospitalised victims, they represent 63%. In absolute figures, more women are killed or hospitalised as passengers than as drivers, and in the case of men, it is the other way around.


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United States publishes National Cybersecurity Strategy 2023

In early March this year, as reported by the OODALoop website, the unveiling of the National Cybersecurity Strategy 2023 at the White House was a testament to the weight that the U.S. government places on cybersecurity, as it considers the publication to be truly incredible and the best of all the strategy documents produced over the decades, as well as a job well done by the leadership of the White House Office of the National Cyber Director.

It should not be forgotten that 2022 was marked by threats, incidents and vulnerabilities of breath-taking and relentless frequency, volume and scale. The vital role of federal cybersecurity professionals was highlighted by the U.S. government. They are considered to be the defenders who successfully fight to protect the homeland against a major cyberattack in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT), physical security, critical infrastructure or industrial control systems (ICS).

However, the strategy document is a clear look at the crucial role the private sector has always played in an industry sector led almost exclusively by governance, innovation, market forces, platforms and private sector products.

To this end, the 2023 National Cybersecurity Strategy lays out two fundamental changes in the way the United States allocates roles, responsibilities, and resources to cyberspace, and states that, in making these changes a reality, it aims not only to improve defences, but to change those underlying dynamics that currently work against U.S. interests. The two fundamental changes are:

  • Rebalancing the responsibility for defending cyberspace by shifting the burden of cybersecurity away from individuals, small businesses and local governments, and doing so towards the organisations that are most capable and best positioned to reduce risks to all citizens.
  • Realigning incentives to favour long-term investments and strike a careful balance between fending off today’s urgent threats while strategically planning for and investing in a resilient future.

This strategy recognises that the government must use all the tools of national power in a coordinated manner to protect national security, public safety and economic prosperity.

The strategy also shifts the burden of dealing with cyber threats from consumers and small businesses to technology companies that provide software, systems and services.

The roadmap, if adopted into law, would likely make technology companies liable for any vulnerabilities in their code that lead to a cyberattack.

The White House strategy document also calls out the governments of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and other states considered autocratic for their reckless disregard for the rule of law and human rights in cyberspace.


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The U.S. Council on Policing Reforms and Race releases its report and recommendations

At the beginning of 2023, the U.S. Council on Policing Reforms and Race officially presented over fifty research-based recommendations to help address some of the most pressing problems facing police and public safety in the United States. These recommendations can be used as a roadmap for policy makers, officials, police executives and community leaders interested in improving public safety.

The National Policing Institute convened the Council as an independent body to pinpoint opportunities for policing reforms with a focus on helping to address racial disparities. The Council includes young people, community members, business and religious leaders, law enforcement leaders and researchers.

The Council’s recommendations are related to traffic stops, mental health and substance abuse, body cameras, community-based violence prevention, police culture, fines and fees, policing in schools and other important aspects of public safety.

In 2020, the National Policing Institute announced the formation of the Policing Reforms and Race Council, an independent initiative aimed at supporting excellence in policing, addressing racial disparities, and building and enhancing trust and legitimacy.

The Council is a non-partisan, majority African American-led initiative that uses research and evidence to consider and offer recommendations for solving some of the most important and pressing issues related to policing reforms and race.

In doing so, the Institute recognizes the role that racism, prejudice, social and organizational culture, and patterns and practices have played in the deterioration of trust and respect between law enforcement and African American communities. Thus, the Institute accompanies the Council to offer comments, recommendations and solutions to address these problems.

While several national panels and commissions have been presented previously to address similar areas of concern, this effort distinguishes itself by bringing together a broad cross-section of perspectives, indicating what we know and don’t know regarding these issues, and raising the voices of African Americans working inside and outside the policing profession.

The recommendations section of the report lists actions that should be taken to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in different contexts, such as police traffic stops, police culture or violence prevention.

Regarding the police culture section, the recommendations are based on enhancing the community perspective within police organisations, promoting a culture of safety and community service, conducting research on police culture and strategies to change this culture, improving legitimacy through procedural justice and enhancing training and certification standards to support a culture of safety and service.


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December 2021 U.S. federal incarceration statistics released

The federal prisoner statistics presented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and collected through the Federal Bureau of Prisons on specific topics reports this data annually around the end of the year.

The published statistics correspond to the calendar year 2021 and detail a wide range of characteristics related to the prisons, inmates and staff, as well as the conditions of the facilities. Among the most noteworthy are the following:

The federal prison population increased by more than 3%, going from 151,283 inmates at the end of 2020 to 156,542 in the same period of 2021.

Around the end of 2021, about 85% of people in federal prisons were U.S. citizens.

Among the total number of prisoners, seven cases of sexual assault were committed against prison staff, of which two involved the use of force or death threats.

By the end of 2021, there were a total of 8,605 citizens registered to volunteer at a federal correctional facility. Of these people, 6,651 were registered for long-term service and 1,954 for 4 days or less.

In the United States there are 122 federal correctional facilities, all with video conferencing capabilities and capacities for participating in court hearings, consultations with foreign embassies, communications with parole offices, preliminary re-entry preparation, disciplinary hearings, and for the Institutional Hearing Program. It should be added that all these prisons are equipped with professional healthcare.

Over the past year, there were a total of 378 people who received medication-assisted treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for substance abuse before being admitted to prisons. It is also worth mentioning that 1,127 people received the treatment while already incarcerated.

During 2021, a total of 73,459 prohibited acts were committed by 47,000 inmates in the various federal prisons. Of these, 35,433 (48%) were of moderate severity, 19,630 (27%) were of high severity and the remaining 25% (18,206) were of greatest severity.

In 2021, prison staff were physically assaulted by federal prisoners in 1,111 separate disturbances, resulting in 10 cases of serious injury to workers.

The four facilities with the most prohibited acts in 2021 were all high-security facilities: Thomson Administrative U.S. Penitentiary in Illinois (1,568 cases), Victorville U.S. Penitentiary in California (1,362 cases), Tucson U.S. Penitentiary in Arizona (1,338 cases) and Lee U.S. Penitentiary in Virginia (1,279 cases).

During the full year, the risk of recidivism was assessed in a total of 142,871 inmates in federal prison through the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN). About 34% of federal prisoners assessed as of 31 December 2021 were classified at high risk of recidivism, 19% at medium risk, 31% at low risk, and 15% at minimal risk.


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