COPKIT is developing data-driven policing technologies to support Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) in preventing, investigating and mitigating crime and terrorism.

In this blog, VICESSE analyse how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the (cyber-)crime landscape.

Within just a few weeks public life has come largely to a halt across all European Member States. The measures against the further spread of the COVID-19-Virus to avoid an overpowering of the health care system put in place by governments affected the economic system and social fabric of our societies in a dramatic way. Economic insecurity for businesses and the precariously employed, social isolation for those who can work from home, or the struggle to transpose enterprises into the digital sphere, and an increased pressure on essential public sector crisis response workers, from law enforcement to hospital workers.

Among the unintended consequences of these restrictions a significant decline in reported crime overall can be observed. Traditional street crimes, drug trafficking, violent crime, and property offences diminished with the shutdown of international borders, the late-night economy, and expanded “stay-home” orders.

This substantial decrease unfolds against the background of a steady decline in reported crime in general as it had been observed over the last decades in most European Member States and beyond. This trend is widely attributed to the general demographic change in our societies: the decrease in fertility and mortality rates together with a higher life expectancy contribute to a transition towards an older population structure and, as a result, the “criminogenic” age group of young men are relatively decreasing.

While this development of crime might be taken as one of the few good news in this pandemic, there are reasons to be concerned about exceptions to this decline, led above others by cybercrime. With the increased necessity to resort to digital infrastructures in all areas of life our vulnerabilities continue to grow in lockstep. This not only holds true for the public critical infrastructure key to the continuation of necessary services, but small businesses and the general public often only on the brink of the digital transformation being particularly exposed.

With a record number of potential victims staying at home and using online services across the EU, the ways for cybercriminals seeking to exploit emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities have multiplied.

New forms of DDos attacks, ransomware, phishing emails, and additional fraud and extortion schemes flourish in an era of digitalization. In aggregation, these often low (individual) value, high volume crimes amount to substantial size in damages to our societies, not including secondary effects of the loss of data and productivity. This scalability distinguishes them from other forms of crime, like doorstep fraud, which also see a new popularity in this pandemic, and hint towards the urgent need of digital resilience and protection for particularly vulnerable groups.

However, not just looking at the changing phenomenology of crimes in this pandemic, but also their counterpart, reveals new challenges. Law enforcement agencies are among the key services responding to the manifold impacts of the COVID-19-Crisis. Many of them have been affected by Austerity measures over the last decades and see now – in policing the pandemic – their resources additionally thinly spread, which is likely to inhibit the organizational developments necessary to respond to transnational cybercrime. New knowledge and skills, tools and positions, as well as forms of international cooperation are key aspects in the organizational development of law enforcement agencies.

It is in this context, that the technical tools developed within COPKIT receive additional significance and responsibility aiding the transformation of policing cybercrime.

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