Pandemic cyber crime trends now business as usual among offenders, officer warns

Cyber crime trends that gained pace during the pandemic while people spent more time online are now “business as usual” among offenders, a senior investigative officer has warned.

Matt Horne, deputy director of investigations at the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), said the Covid-19 outbreak saw a rise in the exploitation of crypto-assets to launder money which has continued to grow.

Criminals also exploited the increased number of people at home and using the internet by turning to technology as a way to gain access to businesses and personal information.

Speaking at the International Security Expo, an event in London’s Olympia bringing together the global security community, Mr Horne warned law enforcement will get “left behind” unless it keeps up with the rapidly changing landscape.

He said: “Serious organised crime is chronic and corrosive. (It) kills more people in the UK than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.”

“We are responding by pushing our own operational work more upstream, overseas and online into areas policing cannot so easily reach,” Mr Horne added.

“As technologies become increasingly complex, law enforcement and our partners must bolster our understanding of how we turn them to our advantage.

“We must pool our resources and focus on a whole-system, collaborative approach, or else we run the risk of being left behind.”

Latest NCA figures show there are an estimated 70,000 known nominals engaged in serious organised crime in the UK, and up to 850,000 people posing a sexual risk to children – statistics which Mr Horne described as “staggering”.

The agency’s latest assessment also confirmed the shift toward online offending, which represents more than half of all reported crime including child sexual abuse and fraud, he said.

Matt Horne
Matt Horne (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Horne said: “Last year’s assessment showed that the overall threat (of serious organised crime), having dipped slightly during Covid-19, now exceeds pre-pandemic levels.

“Throughout, criminals demonstrated the ability to adapt to a shifting landscape to exploit new opportunities to circumvent restrictions.

“Many of the adaptations instigated in the earlier stages of the pandemic, such as an increased use of crypto-assets, are now pretty much ‘business as usual’ for organised crime, and our assessments previously revealed that the scale of organised crime is actually increasing, as its complexity.”

He added: “Over the last few years we’ve seen offenders take advantage of people being at home and online more with technology being their favoured route into people’s homes and businesses.

“As criminals expand their capabilities, in law enforcement we must be agile to identify and maximise technological opportunities and threats.”

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