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Bitcoin remains currency of choice for much of cybercrime – Europol

In a recent report, Europol has said that cybercrime remains a real and significant threat and has found that digital currency bitcoin is still the most preferred currency for cybercriminals.

Europol’s Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) 2016 says that a growing range of threats, from human trafficking to terrorism, are increasingly becoming cyber-facilitated. Also, 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.

“Cryptocurrencies, specifically Bitcoin, remain the currency of choice for much of cybercrime, whether it is used as payment for criminal services or for receiving payments from extortion victims”, the report said.

It added that ransomware continues to be the dominant concern for EU law enforcement and emphasized that ransom payment is almost exclusively in bitcoins. Europol explained that the increasing availability of bitcoin mixing services – which pool and redistribute multiple transactions to confuse transaction trails – has given cybercriminals increased confidence by understanding the additional layers of anonymity. The report noted that throughout 2015, two names dominated the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack scene – DD4BC (DDoS for Bitcoin) and the Armada Collective.

Europol also pointed out that there have been a number of successful hacks on exchanges this year, which includes Cryptsy, Shapeshift, Gatecoin and Bitfinex. However, it said that unlike most attacks in early years of the technology, many companies affected by recent criminal activity have reported the incidents to law enforcement and actively support investigation efforts.

Recommendations

In the wake of growing use of virtual currencies for cybercrime purposes, the report recommends law enforcement to:

  • Build and maintain relationships with the virtual currency community, in particular virtual currency exchangers
     
  • Ensure that cybercrime and financial investigators have adequate training in the tracing, seizure and investigation of virtual currencies
     
  • Carry out regular horizon scanning exercises to assess which alternate currencies are either also being abused, or are likely to be abused in the future
     
  • Invest into and develop new investigative tools and tactics, together with key partners from other sectors, to facilitate investigations involving cryptocurrencies and the blockchain
     
  • Make themselves aware of any packet station services operating in their jurisdictions in order to build working relationships with them to mitigate the abuse of these services

“Following the success of the EMMA initiatives in 2015 and 2016, more European countries should endeavour to contribute and engage in the operational and prevention activity. This will result in a greater and more widespread impact on this key area of criminality”, the report said.

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