Europe, Content, EMEA

Pandemic Displays Cyber Criminals’ Innovation and Malevolence, Europol Warns

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has handed opportunistic cyber criminals a climate rife with fear and uncertainty to exploit, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a new report.

“The pandemic prompted significant change and criminal innovation in the area of cybercrime,” wrote Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s executive director in opening remarks of the 2020 edition of the agency’s Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment. “Criminals devised both new modi operandi and adapted existing ones to exploit the situation, new attack vectors and new groups of victims,” she said.

In particular, Europol's review pointed to the malevolence of ransomware attacks on EU member states, especially on health care organizations, as a threat fed by the pandemic with cyber kidnappers threatening to publish sensitive data if victims refuse to pay. The contagion has prompted an “amplification of existing problems,” Europol said.

Here are some of the document’s key findings, abridged:


  • Social engineering remains a top threat to facilitate other types of cyber crime.
  • Ransomware remains the most dominant threat as criminals increase pressure by threatening publication of data if victims do not pay.
  • Ransomware hits on third-party providers can cripple the supply chain and critical infrastructure.
  • Emotet is omnipresent and leads as the benchmark of modern malware.
  • The threat potential of DDoS attacks is higher than its current impact in the EU.
  • SIM swapping has made a steep rise over the last year.
  • Business Email Compromise (BEC) has increased, grown in sophistication, and become more targeted.
  • Online investment fraud is generating millions in losses and affecting thousands of victims.


  • Cryptocurrencies continue to facilitate payments for various forms of cyber crime.
  • Challenges with reporting hinder creating an accurate overview of crime prevalence.


  • Life cycles of Darkweb marketplace life cycles are shorter with no clear dominant market.
  • The Darkweb community is adapting with more effective collaboration in the search for better security solutions and safe Darkweb interaction.
  • Surface web e-commerce sites and encrypted communication platforms offer an additional dimension to Darkweb trading to enhance the overall business model.

As for disinformation campaigns and so-called fake news, Europol wrote: “Users become vulnerable and receptive to disinformation and fake news due to the paradoxical oversaturation with available information combined with a perceived lack of trustworthy sources of news that reinforce some of the users’ preconceived notions and beliefs. “Disinformation can also be linked to cybercrime in efforts to make social engineering and phishing attacks more impactful.”

Member states and Europol officials offered five recommendations focused on recurring themes to combat cyber crime, including coordination and collaboration among private and public organizations, removing obstacles to information sharing, enhancing judicial cooperation, prevention and awareness and capacity-building among law enforcement.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.