The GFC-induced economic slowdown in Europe is having a direct impact on the growth of cybercrime and other organised crime, according to the European Union's law enforcement agency, Europol.
Europol warns over increases in organised crime
In a recent report into organised crime, the agency said the recent economic crisis had resulted in a surplus of young people with advanced technical skills who were vulnerable to involvement in criminal activity.
"Since the legitimate employment market is likely to be constrained for some years to come, and taking into consideration the example of the Former Soviet Union, it is entirely plausible that an increasing number of unemployed EU citizens will engage in cybercrime or facilitate organised crime on the internet in the coming years," the report reads. Compounded by a lack of career opportunities, students were also being hired direct from educational institutions by organised crime organsiations, Europol said.
"The high-tech nature of cybercriminal activity results in a demographic profile not traditionally associated with transnational organised crime - namely, young, highly skilled individuals who are often recruited from universities," the report reads.
"These features find analogies in hacker culture more generally, where absence of hierarchy, celebration of technical proficiency and comparative youth are prevailing characteristics."
According to the report the internet has become a communication tool, information source, marketplace, recruiting ground and financial service for organised crime helping facilitate illicit drug extraction, synthesis and trafficking, trafficking in human beings, illegal immigration, tax fraud, counterfeiting and trade in prohibited firearms.
"In particular, the perceived anonymity afforded by communications technologies such as email, instant messaging and internet telephony (VoIP) has led to them being used increasingly by organised crime groups as a countermeasure to law enforcement detection and surveillance," the report reads.
"Even groups regarded as more closely knit than technologically aware, such as Albanian speaking groups, have recognised the value of platforms such as Skype. Social sites like Facebook, meanwhile, are being used by OMCGs (outlaw motorcycle gangs) for networking and communication, and by synthetic drug distributors to contact customers."
Online banking was also providing organised crime groups with the opportunity to move criminal assets quickly across borders while online gambling and in-game currencies of virtual worlds were being used to launder criminal proceeds.
The internet was also causing an expansion in EU countries of the markets for child abuse material and intellectual property theft, especially for copyrighted audio-visual material and software.
"Child victims of sexual abuse are exposed to prolonged victimisation as a result of the global and continued circulation on the Internet of visual and other records of their abuse, with images increasingly produced to order," the report reads.
"The use of proxy servers is a notable feature of child abuse material distribution. While an increasing amount of non-commercial material is produced and distributed, commercial production and distribution persists, particularly in the Former Soviet Union. A recent development of note is the use of malicious software to hijack web servers for the purpose of commercial distribution."
Further, the rise of a "sophisticated and self-sufficient digital underground economy" where stolen personal and financial information had a tangible monetary value for criminal organisations.
"This drives a range of new criminal activities, such as phishing, pharming, malware distribution and the hacking of corporate databases, with a fully fledged infrastructure of malicious code writers, specialist web hosts and individuals able to lease networks of many thousands of compromised computers (botnets) to carry out automated attacks," the report reads.
"As this economy has grown in sophistication, mature technical service providers such as payment card verification number generators and illicit data brokers have emerged."
Security company McAfee puts global corporate losses to cybercrime are estimated at around $1 trillion per year. There are more than 150,000 viruses in circulation and around 148,000 computers are compromised each day.