The European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, issued a warning today regarding the cybercrime threat landscape, particularly threats emanating from the so-called “Darknet.” Produced by Europol, the “2016 Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment” report, outlines the biggest threats online.
The annual report concluded that techniques that have normally been associated with cybercrime are now extending into other crime and threat areas, said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol.
“A growing range of threats, from trafficking in human beings to terrorism, are becoming increasingly cyber-facilitated,” Wainwright said in the report. “Other cross-cutting issues, such as the growing misuse of legitimate anonymity and encryption services and tools for illegal purposes pose a serious impediment to detection, investigation and prosecution of criminals.”
Darknet Casts a Long Shadow
Chief among the findings of this year’s report is the growing popularity of the Darknet, a collection of sites that either require special anonymizing software like the Tor browser to access, or are peer-to-peer networks that require special permission to access. The hidden nature of the Darknet makes it a popular platform for distributing child pornography and other exploitation material.
The Darknet is also becoming a popular way to buy and sell real-world illicit goods like weapons and drugs online. Meanwhile, the development of the crime-as-a-service model, in which criminals are able to purchase and download hacking tools online, is also being facilitated by the Darknet. Fences are also increasingly using Darknet to sell stolen data, such as credit card information, online.
The Darknet has managed to flourish in part thanks to the advent of cryptocurrencies that allow criminals to pay for illegal goods or services without compromising their anonymity.
“Bitcoin has become the currency of choice for much of cybercrime,” according to Europol. “While the cryptocurrency landscape is constantly evolving, and there are a growing number of alternate currencies which offer more anonymity, none have yet attained the level of popularity or attention of Bitcoin.”
The Rise of Ransomware
Bitcoin’s role as a cryptocurrency has also given rise to another major threat in recent years: ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware attack that encrypts a target’s data, threatening to delete it if the victim does not pay a ransom. Ransomware attacks have become so successful that they are now the most common malware threat, even more popular than traditional malware attacks, such as banking Trojans, Europol noted.
In addition, the number of cryptoware variants has multiplied. “Whereas each variant has its own unique properties, many are adopting similar anonymisation strategies such as using Tor or I2P for communication, and business models offering free test file decryptions to demonstrate their intentions,” according to the report.
And while traditional and commercially available data-stealing malware has typically targeted desktop Windows users, the variety of ransomware tools available makes it possible for criminals to widen their target lists to include personal mobile devices and networks within industry, healthcare or even the government.