Cathal Delaney: Offender groups are becoming more organised and businesslike in their set-up

Cathal Delaney: Offender groups are becoming more organised and businesslike in their set-up
5 June, 2019 Guest Writer
In Reports and research

Offender groups are becoming more organised and businesslike in their set-up

In the NetClean Report 2018, we look at how offenders organise themselves online. We also look at the level of organisation attached to the forums used by people who share child sexual abuse on the internet and darknet. A large majority of police officers (85%) have come across organised forums, suggesting that new technology is changing how offenders communicate. Cathal Delaney, Head of Team, Analysis Project Twins, EC3, at Europol comments on this development, based on Europol’s observations of online communication and organisation.

By Cathal Delaney, Head of Team, Analysis Project Twins, EC3, Europol

In Europol’s recent report Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) 2018, we looked, amongst other things, at the level of organisation among online offender forums and groups. We have growing intelligence pointing to increased organisation among particular users, especially on the darknet. The information to support these conclusions is contributed by Europol member states, which affords us a good overview of the situation and allows us to draw conclusions with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

Detailed and consistent advice

The conversations in different forums highlight that key individuals are increasingly sharing advice on things like anonymisation techniques and encryption on a more detailed, widespread and consistent level than before. This sort of advice on how to take precautions to hide online activity is not new, but there is now more structure around these conversations. It is the extent of advice and consistency in the messages that is new.

The forums themselves are also becoming more organised and businesslike in structure. In many cases individuals perform specific roles to ensure the efficiency of the forum. This points to the fact that the forums are developing.

“The individual choice of technology is most frequently based on what they are most comfortable using, and which technology they perceive to be the most secure …”

A change in how individuals communicate

We have also seen a development in how people who belong to these online groups communicate. To start with groups who used different direct messaging services were formed through invitations on the darknet. Now they do not necessarily coexist in the same space, and do not move from one technology to the next as frequently as before. The individual choice of technology is most frequently based on what they are most comfortable using, and which technology they perceive to be the most secure; i.e. while one person chooses an app for direct messaging because it is perceived as the most secure technology, somebody else might be using the darknet for the same reason.

Groups and sub-groups

We don’t know the exact number of online offender groups or forums. Larger forums typically consist of many smaller sub groups, and it is a pointless exercise to count them all. The groups may be divided on the basis of: shared language; shared country of origin; a proclivity for the same type of child sexual abuse material; or the same age range of children featured in the material. The variations of these groups are endless. Hence, we do not need to know exactly how many groups there are; it is enough for us to know that they pose a risk to children.

Europol and European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)

Europol assists the 28 EU Member States in their fight against serious international crime and terrorism. Europol set up the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) in 2013 to strengthen the law enforcement response to cybercrime in the EU and help protect European citizens, businesses and governments from online crime.