Cybercrime crackdown on pan-European scale

Europol, the pan-European police organisation, is to create a new international unit to co-ordinate the fight against organised...

Europol, the pan-European police organisation, is to create a new international unit to co-ordinate the fight against organised computer criminals.

Intelligence officers from across Europe will meet in January to begin laying down the groundwork for the unit, which will monitor the activities of paedophiles, terrorists and other criminals.

The advent of the Internet has allowed hackers and viruses to damage businesses without regard for international boundaries, creating the need for greater co-operation between countries.

The move follows concerns that criminal groups may be using e-mails, bulletin boards and Web sites to co-ordinate their activities, and techniques such as encryption and steganography to cover their tracks.

Europol's high-tech crime unit will gather intelligence on computer criminals and assist member states that lack their own specialist units with investigations, said Peter Van Crombrugge, Europol intelligence analyst.

The unit will use databases to keep track of the nicknames and e-mail addresses of suspected criminals. Analysts will be able to draw on software to look for linguistic similarities in communications or to monitor changes made to Web sites.

One of the key tasks facing Europe's cybercrime detectives is the need to gather accurate intelligence to assess the scale of the threat posed in Europe by computer crime.

The meeting in January will lay the foundations for collaboration across Europe to assess the scale of the problem, said Mike Ford, head of intelligence at the UK's National High-tech Crime Unit.

"Law enforcement officers who are responsible for technology and, in particular, cybercrime internationally, will discuss how we can support strategic intelligence work. The idea is that we can collaborate and pool our experience in understanding the strategic threat," he said.

The starting point will be for European states to agree a common definition of high-tech crime. "If you say computer-related fraud, we need to know what you mean by that. We need to know what we are counting," he said.

Europol has put working groups in place to develop the new crime unit, which includes experts from law enforcement and industry.

The unit will offer a threat monitoring service for member stages, computer forensic services and an early warning system that will give advanced notice of hacking or virus attacks.

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