Cybercrime is becoming bolder

Europol’s 2019 cybercrime report provides insights into emerging threats and key developments, highlighting the fact that cybercrime is continuing to mature and becoming increasingly bold, shifting its focus to larger, more profitable targets as well as new technologies. Data is a key element of cybercrime, both from a crime and research perspective.

Cross-cutting cybercrime phenomena
1. Data is at the centre of the crime scenes. Cybercriminals target data for their crimes, so data security and consumer awareness are paramount for organisations.

  1. Cybercrime is maturing and becoming increasingly bold, shifting its focus to larger, more lucrative targets.

Main trends outlined by the 2019 report on cybercrime
1. Ransomware remains the top cybercrime threat in 2019.

  1. DDoS attacks: the use of ransomware to deny an organisation access to its data is a significant threat.
  2. Data overload in fighting child sexual exploitation material: the amount of online material detected by the police and the private sector continues to increase. This increase puts considerable strain on the resources of investigators. One of the most worrying developments is the online sexual exploitation of minors. Deepfake technology is a technique that places images or video over another video.
  3. Self-generated explicit material is more and more common, driven by an increasing number of minors with access to high-quality smartphones.
  4. Smart cities: the most visible ransomware attacks in 2019 were those against local governments, specifically, in the United States.
  5. The police are increasingly responding to attacks on critical infrastructure.
  6. The Darkweb is becoming more fragmented. Some organised crime groups are also fragmenting their business through a range of online services and marketplaces, therefore presenting new challenges for investigators.
  7. Blockchain markets: as well as evading the police, criminal developers are also motivated by a need to increase the loyalty of their customer base, both in terms of anonymity and reducing the risk of scams.
  8. Business email compromise: data is once again the focus of discussions about business email compromise, which has been identified as a priority issue for both Member States and private industry. While this type of crime is not new, it is evolving rapidly. The scam exploits the way corporations do business, taking advantage of segregated company structures and internal gaps in payment verification processes.
  9. EU emergency response protocol: the coordinated response to large-scale cyber-attacks remains a key challenge to effective international cooperation in the cybersecurity ecosystem.


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Fentanyl, much more deadly than heroin

In the United States, the number of deaths from using synthetic opioids has risen from 3,000 in 2013, to more than 30,000 in 2018. In fact, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are now responsible for twice as many deaths as heroin.

In the USA, a book [1] offering a systematic assessment of the past, present, and possible future of synthetic opioids in the United States, has been released. The book is rooted in the analysis of secondary data, literature reviews, international case studies, and interviews with key informants. The goal is to provide decision-makers, researchers, the media, and members of the public with insights intended to improve their understanding of the synthetic-opioid problem and how to respond to it.

Main conclusions

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids dominate some regional drug markets in Canada and the eastern United States.
The spread of Fentanyl can be explained more by supply-side factors than by an increase in demand. These issues include the online dissemination of new and more efficient synthesis methods, anonymous e-commerce operators, etc.

In some markets, fentanyl is replacing – not just altering or supplementing – heroin.
The spread of synthetic opioids is a result of supplier decisions rather than user demand.
Despite substantial differences in their drug policies and public health services, the problem in some parts of Canada is as acute as in the east of the United States.
Fentanyl’s spread is episodically quick and persistent.
The synthetic-opioid problem will likely get worse.
The synthetic-opioid problem in the USA has yet to reach a national scale. Some western regions of Mississippi have been less affected until now.


It’s imperative that efforts be made to prevent synthetic opioids from becoming entrenched in parts of the country that have been only moderately affected.
Policymakers must innovate in places where synthetic opioids are produced. New approaches to dealing with the crisis must be given serious consideration (for example, disrupting online transactions, supervised consumption locations, new evidence-based treatments such as heroin-based treatment, analysis of drug contents). The nature and scale of the challenge presented by synthetic opioids, which, in their current forms and distribution methods represent a departure from previous crisis, make these actions necessary. In fact, the solution to this crisis may lie in approaches and technologies that do not exist today.
Governments have a unique responsibility to fund data-collection and the monitoring of drug sales and usage.  The HIV / AIDS crisis prompted substantial investment in new data and monitoring systems, such as the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System. The number of opioid-related deaths is roughly similar to that at the peak of the HIV / AIDS epidemic, but there has been no comparable investment in improving existing drug control systems.

[1] The future of Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids by Bryce Pardo, Jirka Taylor, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Beau Kilmer, Peter Reuter, Bradley D. Stein.


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One in four Germans have been victims of internet crime

The German Federal Office for Information Security ( has published the results of an online survey completed in April 2019 by 2000 people aged between16 and 69 years old[1]. 24% of respondents claimed to have been the victim of internet crime. 29% of respondents felt that the risk of falling victim to a digital crime was “high” or “very high”.

36% claimed to have been victims of fraud while shopping online, 28% of phishing, 26% of viruses or Trojans, 18% of identity theft, 13% of extortion software, and 13% of cyber-mobbing. Some respondents claimed they had been the victim of several types of crime.

61% of respondents stated that they were using antivirus programmes, 58% secure passwords, 52% firewalls, 36% immediately installed software updates, 32% regularly changed their passwords, and 19% used encrypted email services (respondents were able to select multiple answers). As a consequence of this reality, 73% searched for information on internet security. 24% visited the Federal Office for Information Security’s website, and 47% visited police websites. Only 34% said they hadn’t heard about those websites.

The age-group most likely to report a crime to the police is 60-69 years (41%) and 50-59 years (40%), with people from 16 to 29 years and 30 to 39 years the least likely to do so (23%). The group that keeps itself most informed about the internet is 50 to 59-year-olds (38% regularly and 40% when a problem arises) and 60 to 69-year-olds (37% and 38%). The subject most people searched for information on was online banking (62%). Although the vast majority had heard about preventative measures, only a minority takes them into account and tracks them regularly (9%).

Among those that have already fallen victim to digital crime, the most frequently used protective measures are updated firewalls (50%), more secure passwords (44%), and updated antivirus programmes (40%).



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Extortion, violence and organised crime in Latin America

According to a recent study[1], after homicide, extortion is the second most prolific crime committed against the rule of law in Latin American and Caribbean countries. As well as being the primary source of income for maras, youth gangs, and organised crime groups, the growing number of violent deaths arising from extortion means it has now become the most significant threat to personal safety.

An example: in El Salvador, 24% of the population claims to have been the victim of extortion at some point in their lives, and in Guatemala official allegations of extortion increased by 55% between 2013 and 2018.

In recent years, some countries have taken steps to tackle extortion, attempting to resolve the problem with tougher punishments, specialist prevention programmes, the use of specialist police forces and dedicated help-lines for victims. Another measure to have gained popularity is the blocking of mobile phone signals in prisons. This is because in some countries up to 70% of extortions are organised from behind prison walls.

Given that extortion has such a devastating effect on both the peaceful coexistence of a population and its economy, the study makes a series of recommendations for their prevention and control:

  • Push for police modernisation and incentivise the social rehabilitation of inmates. Streamline police and judiciary systems to ensure improved safety for citizens.
  • Encourage the development of joint public and private partnerships such as the one that exists between the sugar production industry and the El Salvador National Police. By doing this the police have been able to obtain transport and communications equipment.
  • Dedicate more resources to finding technical ways to control extortion. For example, Mexico has a mobile application that identifies calls placed from prisons.
  • Extend regional exchanges on good practice for extortion control to speed the sharing of programmes and solutions.
  • Consolidate control mechanisms for extortion cases involving civil servants. Especially in cases where civil servants demand money from citizens to carry out specific administrative proceedings.
  • Generate attractive professional alternatives for members of youth gangs. For example, community centres that organise activities aimed at preventing the recruitment of young people in high-risk neighbourhoods.
  • Provide incentives for small and medium businesses not to deal in cash. In Guatemala it has been found that most proceeds obtained from extortion are invested in businesses, buses, taxis, and bars.
  • Encourage the victims of extortion to undertake criminal procedures by providing them with all the necessary protection guarantees in order to increase the number of official complaints and convictions.

[1] A Criminal Culture: Extortion in Central America.


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Uneven distribution of homicides in the world

The global homicide study of the UNODC(1) shows that the number of homicides continues to rise, although rates are going down due to the rise in population. In 1990, 362,000 cases were detected and in 2017, 463,821. The study deals with illegal intentional homicides(2) that have been committed in the world until 2017.

If we focus on continental data, a great impact is stressed in the two Americas that, according to 2017 figures, concentrate 37% of homicides with a mere 13% of the world’s population. The global rate of 17.2% per hundred thousand amounts to an overall record since 1990, which is the first year that reliable data was used. Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil are the countries with the highest rates.

The second continent on the list is Africa with 13 per hundred thousand, but care must be taken with these figures as there are doubts about their reliability. Apart from America, only South Africa reaches maximum levels. Europe has experienced a drop of 68% since 2002 and 38% since 1990, amounting to 22,009, a rate of 3 per hundred thousand, leading Oceania (2.8 per hundred thousand) and Asia (2.3 per hundred thousand)(3)

Most homicides (54%) were committed with firearms (the main instrument used in America, with the exception of Canada, and in the Balkans), 22% were committed with a knife and 24 % using other means

The perpetrators of homicides are mainly men (90%). If we look at homicide in terms of criminal convictions, only 6% of those convicted were women. In Europe the figure reaches 9%, whereas in the Americas it is 7%, and in Asia, 6%, and in Africa, 5%. Regarding the victims, they are usually men (81%), with the most affected age group being the one between 15 and 29 (basically due to the American reality), although in Europe the most affected age group is between 30 and 44. Women are their partner’s victims (34%), of other members of the family (24 %) and in 42 % of cases, people who are not part of the family context, meaning that the inner and family circle is the most dangerous for them. If we focus on cases involving couples, 82% of the victims are women. Another noteworthy piece of data is that, the higher the number of homicides, the bigger the percentage of male victims.

The report refers to contexts that may facilitate violence and, consequently, an increase in homicide. At the same time, it flouts traditional stereotypes in this area. More specifically, it states:

  • Socioeconomic development (or a lack of this) explains the levels of homicide in Europe and Asia, but is more difficult to explain per in the Americas and Asia. Organised crime, political instability and the availability of firearms are crucial factors in these continents. However, organised crime (and drug trafficking) do not always generate high homicide rates.
  • Inequality in terms of standard of living and distribution of wealth. Countries with the highest rates of economic inequality are the ones with the highest rates of homicides.
  • Long-term investment and educational policies are associated with a drop in homicide rates.
  • Improvements in the rule of law is key to reducing homicide rates.
  • Urban growth does not seem, in itself, to cause an increase in homicide.
  • Police officers can be both a source of violence and its victims.
  • Emigrants are predominantly killed by other emigrants.
  • In some countries (Chile, El Salvador, Argentina, Panama, Honduras, Botswana and Montenegro) prisons are places where a higher risk of being a homicide victim is detected.

[1] Vid.

[2] They have no legal protection, which could be a jusifying cause or constitute a conviction in a country that applies capital punishment.

[3] Àsia experiences four times more homicides than Europe, 104,456, but has six times its population.


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Assaults of a racist, xenophobic and anti-religious nature in France in 2018

For the last twenty-five years, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) has sent the government a report on the state of racism, antisemitism and xenophobia in the country. The report is developed on the basis of several sources, which may be official, like records from the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Justice and the Security Survey, and also data provided by international associations and researchers. In April, a report referring to last year was presented.

In 2018, the Police and Gendarmerie services recorded 5,170 crimes related to ethnicity, nation, a particular race or religion. This figure represents a drop for a third consecutive year in this type of offences (between 2015 and 2016 there was a 20% drop, between 2016 and 2017, it was 11% and between 2017 and 2018, it was 4%). On the other hand, there was an increase in the more serious offences.

The data shows a big territorial disparity; over 60% of the victims of this nature of crime recorded by security forces have suffered such offences in the Paris area (29%) or another large urban conurbation of over 200,000 inhabitants (33%).

As far as the victims are concerned, in 2018 security forces recorded 4,840 victims of offences of a “racist nature”, of which 57% were men. The age group with most victims is between 25 and 54 (over 70%) and foreign victims amount to 20%, emphasising that 15% were from an African country.

However, it must be borne in mind that the data from police records merely represent a small portion of the «racist nature» crimes taking place, as not all victims report the offences. For this reason, data from the crime survey “Life and Security Framework”. According to this survey, during the 2012-2017 period, only 1 victim of “racist” insults out of 50 and 1 victim of «racist» threats or physical violence out of 6 stated that they had reported the incident to the police. According to this survey, in 2017, in France 1.1 million people of 14 years of age or over (1 out of 45) were victims of at least one assault of a “racist nature”.

The survey also displayed a higher frequency than in other groups of assaults committed by a group and in a public space or open to the public.

The report also refers to the Longitudinal Tolerance Rate (LTR), created in 2008 by Professor Vincent Tiberj. This is an indicator that synthesises with responses to a series of questions concerning racism or rejection of others; a rate of around 100 shows a high level of tolerance and the opposite reflects a weak tolerance level. In 2018, the tolerance level was 67, which means a 2-point rise in comparison with 2017. This evolution is not a one-off as it follows the upward trend over recent years, as between 2013 and 2018, the rate has advanced 13 points, a highly exceptional and remarkable variation in a context in which the terrorist threat and the question of welcoming refugees has been at the centre of public debate.

Links of interest


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The greater complexity of the terrorist threat in 2018

The terrorist phenomenon continued to represent an important security threat for the European Union in 2018. This is what is explained in the latest report published by Europol – Europol’s 2019 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT) –which considers that the level of the terrorist threat has become more complex rather than decreasing.

In the sum of the terrorist attacks, thirteen people died and dozens were injured. With these figures and compared with 2017, the number of attacks and victims fell significantly with the number of terrorist groups being investigated and detained in the EU increasing.

The report on trends in the EU related to the situation and evolution of terrorism in 2018, is a document required by the European Parliament that offers a concise vision of the nature of the terrorist threat facing the EU.

Among the main trends stressed by the document are the following:

–       All terrorist attacks were of a Jihadist nature, committed by lone individuals and against the civil population.

–       The mental health problems of some perpetrators contributed to the complexity of the phenomenon. Jihadist attacks were carried out using firearms or non-sophisticated weapons that were easily accessible like knives.

–       The level of the terrorist threat throughout the EU continues to be high due to, among other factors, the significant number of attacks that were thwarted, and the 16 Jihadist terrorist groups arrested.

–       Three terrorist groups intercepted by the police in 2018 included the attempt to produce and/or use chemical and biological explosives and materials. An increase in the use of pyrotechnic mixes to produce explosive devices was also detected.

–       A general increase in propaganda and CBRN terrorist threats.

–       While minors are essentially victims, there is concern in member states of the EU as to whether they have been exposed to indoctrination and training and, therefore, have become a potential threat.

–       There is a concern as to why people with a criminal or prison record are vulnerable to indoctrination and can participate in terrorist activities.

–       The member states of the EU thinks that it is likely that the reduction in the territorial control of Islamic State will be substituted by an increase in Al Qaida efforts to recover power and influence.

–       While online propaganda remained technologically advanced and software pirates seem to have knowledge of encoded communication tools, the capacities and techniques of cyber-attacks from the groups were rudimentary.

–       In 2018, there was no terrorist group that displayed a capacity to carry out effective cyber-attacks.

–       The report also offers a general vision of the terrorist situation outside the EU, including conflict areas Like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.


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Hot spots of organised crime in the west of the Balkans

A report published in May 2019 by The Global initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, a civil observatory to combat organised crime in south east Europe[1], offers a fairly comprehensive analysis of the reality of organised crime in the west of the Balkans and tries to detect its clusters or hot spots.

The report draws from the premise that there are three fundamental factors that favour this type of crime:

  1. Economic vulnerability. Very high in this area, with groups of the population with an unemployment rate of over 50%.
  2. Weak or fractionated and closed off political systems. The succession of serious and violent conflicts that took place in that region meant that the institutional network created with international support (imposition in some cases) does not have the necessary strength or authority to guarantee acceptable levels of rule of law. Moreover, the range of institutional organigrams do not relate to each other appropriately (nor collaborate). Clear examples are the police forces of the republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbian-Kosovar institutions and the Albano Kosovar ones and more clearly the institutions of Serbia with the Kosovar ones. This means that there are no solid consolidated powers in large territorial areas. This factor and the previous one facilitate links between businesses, crime and political power.
  3. Geographic location. This location must be understood in two ways:
    • With regard to road and communication structures. Cities located on crossings of motorways or important roads, and railway junctions, allow for more fluid and easy circulation of the products that are the object of organised crime activity.
    • With regard to the proximity to or distance from areas with the products that are traditionally an objective for International crime activities. In this case, the region is on the heroin route between Afghanistan and Western Europe, and is a good point of entry for those who are fleeing from misery and war in Africa and the Middle East and for the weapons that these conflicts serve to market.

Drawing on these factors, the report not only goes on to place cities and regions that are highly likely to become hot spots of organised crime, but also those that have also been shown to be hot spots in practice.

The specific places identified by the report are, among others:

  • Subotica (Serbia): drug and tobacco trafficking (before the construction of the wall by Hungary, people trafficking).
  • Vrsac (Serbia): tobacco and heroin trafficking.
  • Tuzla (Bosnia-Herzegovina). Trafficking of people, livestock, wood, drugs, cars, money and clothes with false labels.
  • The Trebinje region (Bosnia-Herzegovina). Trafficking of drugs, tobacco and people.
  • Rozaje and surroundings (Montenegro). Drugs, people, tobacco, medicine and weapons.
  • Kulla/Kula (between Kosovo and Montenegro). Trafficking of tobacco and drugs.
  • Durrës (Albania). It is the country’s biggest port and the main gateway for goods arriving from Latin America. For this reason, it has a relevant role in importin cocaine from Colombia.
  • Vlorë (Albania) the country’s second port, a point of departure for cannabis produced nationally and of many criminals that head for Italy and Spain.
  • The ports of Bar, Budva and Kotor (Montenegro). These ports are famous for importing cocaine, and, for example, tobacco smuggling although it is also produced there. There has recently been a war to death between gangs of drug traffickers, with many casualties.
  • Sarajevo and the neighbouring region (Bosnia-Herzegovina). High rates of theft and vehicle trafficking. Manifest inefficiency on the part of the police to detain the criminals involved.
  • Prístina (Kosovo). Drug trafficking and organised falsification of public title deeds.
  • Skopje (Macedonia). Crucial focal point for drug trafficking both for the north-south and east-west.

The report concludes by stating that this region is victim of its own demographic location as well as economic and political instability. The authors of the report, however, seem to detect a certain tiredness of corruption and organised crime among the population as it has caused somewhat violent public protests.

[1] Vid.


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School bullying: the first step towards anti-social adult conduct

At the beginning of 2019 the study Bullying, an open door to ant-social adult conduct by Pedro García Sanmartín was published. This study considers that the deficit in social values and a deficient education among children have become risk factors underlying the school bullying phenomenon. This conduct would involve an open door to anti-social conduct among adolescents and adults.

Unfortunately, the study considers that an increase in the number of cases of bullying or cyberbullying is taking place, involving both boys and girls at younger and younger ages with disorders such as depression, anxiety and suicide. Moreover, other associated problems are detected at school like dropping out of school and low marks, etc. As well as other anti-social conduct like the consumption of alcohol and drugs at an early age, vandalism and theft.

The study also focuses on the times we are living in and considers that both the procrastination and the desire to obtain information related to anything immediately without bearing in mind the consequences this could have in the future, is resulting in children not having the necessary social skills to address problems that will crop up in the future.

One of the most important effects of childhood experiences, which lasts through to maturity and affects personal development, is the Pygmalion effect, meaning discrediting remarks and labels acquired during childhood, leaving a mark on one’s personality, and in some cases leading to low self-esteem, insecurity and other cognitive disorders.

The author considers that school bullying is a multi-faceted problem, but it is a phenomenon that everyone, to varying degrees, has helped to cause and, therefore, society as a whole must make a commitment to eliminate. Especially given the fact that it is often the step prior to future deviant behaviour.

The causes of bullying are also multifactorial. The lack of normalised skills and values means that these children seek refuge in anti-social conduct, which they consider to be justified, being reinforced by witnesses, who to some point also have a deficit regarding some essential social values, as well as a lack of security.

The report includes the following among its conclusions:

  • The need to call for a change in the educational system, improving the provision of resources and tools for education-related services as well as care services.
  • It stresses the importance of education that both teachers, and mothers and fathers, assume the responsibility of helping children to discover, bring out and exhibit hidden faculties so that they can achieve security, self-esteem, self-awareness, and be able to address problems that crop up in the future.
  • The author stresses that old inter-generational educational habits that do not help with the current development of boys and girls must change. As we live in a complex world, values such as tolerance, respect, equality, justice and solidarity must be addressed.

In Catalonia, according to the results of the School Violence Survey in 2016, about 40% of pupils were victims of an act of mistreatment on the part of peers. Of these, 24% suffered more than one incident that year and 10.4% suffered bullying, meaning that they suffered negative actions once or twice a week.

Of all the victims of bullying, 40% were cases of cyberbullying, with the percentage of female victims being higher than male victims (25.4% as opposed to 15%).


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The drug situation in Europe in 2019

According to the European report on drugs 2019, trends and developments, Europe has experienced far-reaching changes concerning the challenges caused by the drug world, including the appearance of more non-controlled substances.

Important changes have also been observed in the drug market and its consumption. The market is dominated by plant substances imported into Europe, and this means that Europe has been a market in which synthetic drugs and production within the continent have increased in importance.
These are some of main items stressed by the report:

  • Globalisation and technical advances have reshaped strategic questions that European political leaders have to consider.
  • At the moment, the number of people that require, for the first time, treatment because of cocaine use is low compared with past records, levels of parenteral consumption has fallen, and the annual number of IVH cases attributed to drug consumption via parenteral methods has gone down by about 40% over the last ten years.
  • The opioid epidemic currently affecting the United States and Canada can be put down to the consumption of synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl derivatives. This is not happening in Europe for the moment, but it is a source of concern.
  • There are signs that the growing availability of cocaine is generating more healthcare costs. Since 2014, the number of consumers that have begun treatment because of problems with cocaine, although this is relatively low, has increased by over 35%.
  • Current data related to cocaine in Europe reveals that both the number of interventions and the quantities intervened have reached a record high. Cocaine enters Europe using different routes and means, but the increase in trafficking in large amounts to large ports, using intermodal containers is particularly noteworthy.
  • The production of synthetic drugs in Europe, although this is difficult to control, seems to be growing, becoming more diversified and more innovative. Recent data shows an increase in the intervention of precursor chemical products, which is noteworthy.
  • Over recent years, new kinds of cannabis have been developed due to advances in cultivation, extraction and production techniques. The types of plants established both in Europe and Morocco –where much of the cannabis resin consumed in Europe is found– have begun to be substituted by hybrid plants and several varieties that produce more potent cannabis.
  • Throughout 2018, the EU warning system regarding news of new psychoactive substances received notifications of new substances once a week. A total of 55 was the figure detected in 2018, similar to that of 2017.
  • In 2017, illegal drug interventions by law enforcement forces reached the figure of 1.1 million. The three countries with the highest number of interventions were Spain, the United Kingdom and France, which together amount to two thirds of the total of interventions in the European Union.
  • Heroin is the opioid that is most consumed in the European drug market. Heroin enters Europe via four main routes: the Balkan route and from the south, which are the most important, and there is also a branching out of the Southern route that passes through Syria and Iraq, and the northern route.
  • There has been a certain resurgence of MDMA, which is mainly produced in the Netherlands and Belgium.


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