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Study Suggests “Organized Crime” Evolved With Cybercrime

A recent study pointed out that WannaCry marked a moment of “globalization” of crime. Thomas Franke, head of Germany’s Forum for Networked Security, called organized crime “[t]he biggest business in the world.” The classic examples of organized crime—gangs, for instance—crossed borders far before the world of hidden services existed. But, he explained that the very idea or definition of organized crime changed.

To the topic and thought of the stereotypical form of organized crime, Franke said that “we need to get to grips with is that organized crime is much more than this and is constantly evolving.” Arndt Sinn, a law professor at Osnabrück University gave figures for income generated by global organized crime. Conservative figures. Between $800 billion and $2.2 trillion.

Some publications called the conservative numbers “mind-boggling.” She gave more arbitrary numbers—for instance, she said that the illegal good confiscation was up 1000 percent – since 1998. “Thanks to the spread of online trade 90 percent of all confiscations are now made on goods sent through the mail.”

Drug trafficking in Germany, she explained, accounted for 36.7 percent of all organized crime. She saw an increase in the piracy and counterfeiting​ industry, both of which played into the drug trafficking. “Fifty percent of all pharmaceutical products sold online are fakes,” according to her research. Cybercrime only accounted for four percent of organized crime in Germany—she said that it, too, rapidly increased in prevalence. (She used “Cybercrime” in reference to WannaCry and ransomware.)

The dreaded topic of terrorism arose too, but the researchers avoided weaponization of the term itself. Franke explained the blurred line between individual crime and organized crime. And similarly organized crime and terrorism. This too referenced WannaCry​. “It’s unclear, for instance, whether the WannaCry ransomware should be treated as organized or individual crime.” This argument, or question rather, applied to all ransomware or similar widespread cyber warfare.

Clemens Binninger, a security researcher, explained that “just because the attack affected 200,000 computers and 100 countries, there doesn’t have to be a large-scale structure behind it.” The darknet, along with hidden areas of the the internet allow individuals to launch their own attacks of a similar scale.

Sinn recognized the current hot topic for mainstream media, cybercrime-as-a-service.

“A whole secondary industry enabling blackmail has arisen. There’s a tool you can download for free on the darknet – you pay 30 percent commission, if it works. It’s a box where you input a blackmail message and the email addresses of the people you want to blackmail.”

Ultimately, they explained, criminals will exploit anything that yields a profit. The globalization and reach of the 21st century individual allows a connection with others, including modernized variants of the classic criminal syndicates, blurring the lines and redefining what constitutes “organized crime.”

Despite some of the overdramatized aspects of the study and presentation, the hypothesis hit home with regard to various current events. I refer to Ross Ulbricht. A grand jury indictment returned with a “continuing criminal enterprise” charge. Continuing criminal enterprise, as described by the US government (21 U.S. Code § 848), applies when a “person occupies a position of organizer” with five or more people, involved in numerous criminal activities—usually focused on drug distribution.

Some other entities indicted under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise law included families that ran cartels (Tijuana Cartel) and the Black Mafia Family. The DEA, in the BMF case, arrested the leader(s) under a Continuing Criminal Enterprise indictment and went back and indicted another 150 members. In the US legal system, they fit the “organized crime” definition.

What does that make Ulbricht and what does that make users of darknet marketplaces?

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