Europol Cites Bitcoin, Darknet as Enhancing Cybercrime

Cryptocurrencies, specifically Bitcoin, remain the currency of choice for much of cybercrime, Europol’s Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) 2016 report says, adding that whether it is used as payment for criminal services or for receiving payments from extortion victims. Even so, key members of the Bitcoin community, such as exchangers, are increasingly finding themselves the victim of cyber-criminals.

The report, which the Director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, says provides a predominantly law enforcement focused assessment of the key developments, changes and emerging threats in the field of cybercrime over the last year, is based on valuable contributions by EU Member States and the expert input of Europol staff, which has been further enhanced and combined with input from our partners in private industry, the financial sector and academia.

It states:

For criminal to criminal (C2C) payments, payment systems which ensure that both parties can maintain a high level of anonymity are preferred, with Bitcoin being the payment system of choice for many C2C transactions. Bitcoin has also become the standard solution for extortion payments, whether as a consequence of ransomware or DDoS attacks.

It also added that a variety of new and innovative modi operandi have been discovered which combine existing approaches, exploiting new technology or identifying new targets. This, it says, is evident in the proliferation and evolution of malware attacks directly against ATMs, indications of compromised payments involving contactless (NFC) cards and the recent attacks against the SWIFT system are examples of this development.

Citing the growing misuse of legitimate anonymity and encryption services and tools for illegal purposes as posing a serious impediment to detection, investigation and prosecution, thereby creating a high level of threat cutting across all crime areas, the report says this creates a dichotomy of value, particularly for law enforcement since strong encryption is highly important to e-commerce and other cyberspace activity and adequate security depends on police having the ability to investigate criminal activity.

The use of end-to-end encrypted platforms for sharing media, coupled with the use of largely anonymous payment systems, is facilitating an escalation in the live streaming of child abuse as offenders target regions where there are high levels of poverty, limited domestic child protection measures and easy access to children.


The Darknet is also increasingly becoming host to criminal forums and marketplaces usually operated in the open or Deep Web  to capitalize on its anonymity and availability of criminal tools which have made resourceful for terrorists’ use.

Even though law enforcement is not reporting a significant trend on this matter, the report says, certain investigations on the aftermath of some attacks indicate that terrorists are aware of the potential of this environment, namely to communicate undetected by law enforcement or to purchase illegal materials.

As a result, there is an increased demand for weapons that is fuelled by online markets where it is not difficult to purchase either gun parts or modified guns, demonstrating once again how online criminality is fuelling serious real world crime, such as terrorist attacks.

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Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.