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The potential for losses through hi-tech crime to grow is rising as criminals become more technically competent, according to an annual assessment of serious and organised crime in the UK.

The warning comes in a UK Threat Assessment report by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), published today, which takes stock of the risk to the UK from serious and organised crime and identifies key trends in criminal behaviour. This annual assessment is a classified document but for the fourth year, NCIS is also publishing an unclassified version which is designed to educate the public about the risks from criminal behaviour.

NCIS's report concludes the threat to the UK from serious and organised criminals remains high. In particular seven significant threats are identified:

  • Class A drugs trafficking (heroin, cocaine powder, crack cocaine and ecstasy)
  • Organised immigration crime
  • Fraud (particularly revenue fraud)
  • Money laundering
  • (Possession and use of) firearms
  • Hi-tech crime
  • Sex offences against children (including on-line child abuse)

In addition, the report examines other threats such as armed robbery, kidnap, organised vehicle theft, lorry load and other thefts, cultural property theft, counterfeit currency, payment card crime, environmental crime and intellectual property crime.

The report documents concern among UK police that criminals are increasingly likely to apply technology for criminal gain.

"Most identified hi-tech attacks to date have not been committed by serious and organised criminals, but by individuals motivated principally by the desire to cause harm or mischief rather than to make money."

The costs through downtime and damage to systems because of this type of criminal behaviour are one thing but other threats lie just around the corner.

"The money-making potential of hi-tech attacks will not be lost on serious and organised criminals, and their use of them will only increase," the report states.

"Prevention is the key, and relies on individuals and companies exercising sensible precautions based on a sound understanding of the risks," it adds.

The threat assessment states that the success of criminals in hi-tech crimes "will be limited by the level of their technological competence, or ability to recruit specialists to carry out such work for them" as well as the effectiveness of security measures ranged against them.

The report adds: "Criminals are becoming increasingly technologically competent, and serious and organised criminals have demonstrated in other areas that they are willing to buy in skills and expertise, or subcontract to specialists, where there is a need or advantage in doing so."

"It is therefore reasonable to assume that their use of hi-tech methods will only increase as banks, businesses and individuals become more reliant on IT and online transactions, and more and more potentially valuable data is stored on networks.

"The widespread availability of software-based tools and techniques that enable the exploitation of network and computer vulnerabilities adds to the threat," the report adds.

Much of the criminal activity likely to take place are not new forms of crime, as such, but the use of the new tools (like the Internet) applied to old crimes, such as fraud and extortion.

However the NCIS admits that "it is unclear what proportion of hi-tech crime is attributable to serious and organised criminals, as distinct from individual criminals or mere thrill-seekers".

The paedophile threat

Elsewhere in the report, the NCIS notes how the Internet has changed the way paedophiles operate.

"The arrival of the Internet has changed the nature and extent of criminal networking between paedophile offenders. Online guides to all aspects of child sex are available, some with hyperlinks to bulletin boards and chatrooms, plus more secretive password-controlled areas. The internet has enabled rapid growth in the publication of computer-based images of child abuse and their global distribution, to the extent that they have now largely replaced printed material," the report states.

"The production of images normally involves actual abuse and demand for new images encourages producers to find new victims or to repeat the abuse of existing victims. The profits to be made from internet child pornography have attracted serious and organised criminals. In addition to exchanging pornographic material, some child sex offenders have exploited internet chatrooms (or ICQ/instant messaging) to target and 'groom' children," it adds. ®

Related Link

UK Threat Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2003, by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS)

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