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Preventing and countering cyber organized crime


The measures implemented to counter cyber organized crime have focused on law enforcement and prosecution efforts, technical solutions, and education campaigns. Criminal justice efforts include the monitoring of online sites (both the visible and Deep Web) that facilitate cyber organized crime and/or promote the services of cyber organized criminals, the take down of these sites, and prosecutions of those engaging in cyber organized crime. Cases in point are the AlphaBay and Hansa joint United States and Netherlands law enforcement operations. The US-led investigation targeted AlphaBay ( Operation Bayonet). When AlphaBay was seized, users (vendors and buyers) of the platforms migrated to another cryptomarket, Hansa, which unbeknownst to them, was under the control of the Dutch police, who was conducting an undercover operation to identify and disrupt illicit activities committed on the darknet site (Greenberg, 2018). This migration enabled Dutch authorities to identify and investigate these individuals before the platform was shut down in July 2017 (Europol, 2017).

The AlphaBay and Hansa investigations demonstrate the importance of international cooperation on cyber organized crime cases. National capacity-building (discussed in Cybercrime Module 7) of non-specialized law enforcement (those not exclusively focused on cybercrime) in the form of training and knowledge sharing relating to cyber organized crime investigations (discussed in Cybercrime Module 5 and in Module 11 of the Teaching Module Series on Organized Crime) (UNODC, 2013; Europol, 2018) can assist in this endeavour

Undercover law enforcement operations involving the surreptitious monitoring of these sites and users' activities, and the publicizing of these operations, are not only aimed at identifying and disrupting illicit activities on these sites but also at eroding trust in these markets because trust is essential to the success of dark markets and cryptomarkets (Lusthaus, 2012). The presence of scam dark markets and cryptomarkets also erodes trust in these markets. For example, after the take down of Silk Road, users migrated to other cryptomarkets (with their bitcoins), only to find out that these dark markets were scams (the platforms shut down, taking the users bitcoins with them, also known as an exit scam) (Maras, 2016).

Prosecutions of cyber organized criminals are aimed at holding perpetrators of illicit activities on these sites and creators, administrators, and moderators of these sites responsible for their crimes. Before taking his own life, Alexandre Cazes, the creator and administrator of AlphaBay, was facing numerous charges relating to organized crime (that carried significant penalties) for his role (US Department of Justice, 2017). The creator and administrator for Silk Road received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole in the United States for his crimes (Greenberg, 2017). Nevertheless, severe penalties for cyber organized crimeby no means constitutes a trend. Infact,penalties for some types of trafficking (e.g., wildlife and cigarette trafficking) are low, making this a low risk, and high reward illicit activity (Maras, 2016; Décary-Hétu, Mousseau, Rguioui, 2018).

Technological solutions can (and have been) implemented to counter cyber organized crime. Software has been used to detect language in advertisements that points to trafficking. This software needs to be updated regularly to anticipate the measures that traffickers take to evade detection by this software. For example, human traffickers use emojis (e.g., growing heart) to depict a minor being advertised and wildlife traffickers "misspell… or use creative words for their goods, for example, for the word "ivory," a reseller might use 'ivoree,' 'ivori,' 'i v o ry' or 'iv*ry'" or use the terms "white plastic" to refer to ivory or "black plastic" to refer to a rhino horn (IFAW, 2008; Maras, 2016; Maras, 2018).

Facial recognition technology has also been deployed to identify trafficked persons, and sexually exploited children (see Cybercrime Module 12 and Module 14 of the Teaching Module Series on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants). Image recognition software has further been utilized to identify child sexual abuse material (see Cybercrime Module 12 on Interpersonal Cybercrime). Image recognition software can also be used to identify wildlife and illicit goods in images, such as drugs or firearms. This software can speed up the identification of illicit goods online and flag illicit content for review by moderators of the online platforms (Drange, 2016).


As discussed in Cybercrime Module 3 on Legal Frameworks and Human Rights, arbitrary blocking or filtering of content is prohibited under international human rights law.

Education campaigns have been used as a tool of (cyber) crime prevention and have focused on raising awareness on cyber organized crime, by for example, informing the public about the ways in which individuals can protect themselves from cybercrime, such as fraud, malware (e.g., remote access Trojans, spyware, and ransomware), social engineering tactics (e.g., Europol's Public Awareness and Prevention Guides ), and the risks, warning signs, and consequences of being a money mule (e.g., Europol's Money Muling Guide ). With regards to cyber-facilitated crimes perpetrated by cyber organized criminals (e.g., malware distribution and hacking), practical cybersecurity measures have been proposed that are designed to identify vulnerabilities and prevent exploits of vulnerabilities, such as strong authentication measures and intrusion detection and intrusion protection systems (see Cybercrime Module 9 for further examples of cybersecurity measures).

Education campaigns have also focused on the adverse impacts of cyber organized crime. Cases in point are the UNODC "Counterfeit: Don't Buy Into Organized Crime" campaign (mentioned in Cybercrime Module 11 on Cyber-Enabled Intellectual Property Crime) that covers the negative impact of counterfeit trafficking (UNODC, 2014) and Europol's Public Awareness and Prevention Guides and awareness campaigns on online counterfeit goods (e.g., #dontfakeup ). INTERPOL's #StopIllicitTrade offline and online awareness campaign, which is part of its Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting programme , not only provides information about the threats posed by the trade of illicit goods but also on the links between this trade and organized crime.

Public awareness and education campaigns also focus on certain forms of trafficking. For instance, the United Nations Blue Heart Campaign , seeks to raise awareness on human trafficking through advertisements online (e.g., social media, international organization websites and government websites) and in person (e.g., billboards) (US Department of States, 2018), and the United Nations #WildforLife campaign, raises awareness of wildlife trafficking issues and seeks to mobilize public action to end this form of trafficking.

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