Launched on 1 September 2014 to further strengthen the fight against cyber crime in the European Union (EU) and beyond, the Joint Cyber Crime Action Task Force’s (J-CAT) mandate, initially set up for a period of six months, has been extended following its success. All participating countries and agencies have agreed on the benefits of this co-operation model and have expressed their willingness to continue with the initiative.
Hosted at the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3) at Europol in The Hague, the J-CAT is composed of cyber liaison officers from EU Member States (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK), non-EU law enforcement partners (Australia, Canada, Colombia and the US) and EC3. All of them are located in one single office to ensure that they can communicate with each other in the most effective way.
Pro-actively driving intelligence-led and co-ordinated actions against key cyber crime threats and top targets, the J-CAT is involved in fighting high-tech crimes, crime facilitation and online fraud.
One of J-CAT’s biggest anti-cyber crime operations to date is Operation Onymous. Taking place in November 2014, it resulted in more than 410 hidden services being taken down from The Dark Web, the seizure of bitcoins worth approximately US$1 million in cash plus the capture of drugs, gold and silver.
Commenting on the extension of the J-CAT’s mandate, Wil van Gemert (deputy director at Europol in charge of operations) explained: “This will ensure continuity of the J-CAT, alignment with other strands of work and integration within the policy framework and existing structures for European cyber crime investigations.”
Andy Archibald of the UK’s National Cyber Crime Unit, the agency leading J-CAT, added: “Modern, professional, internationally-operating cyber criminals demand a strong response in terms of cross-border law enforcement co-ordination and co-operation. The J-CAT delivers exactly that.”
Positive results of extending J-CAT’s mandate have already been seen. Last week, Operation Triangle led to the dismantling of a group of cyber criminals active in Belgium, Italy, Poland, Spain, the UK and Georgia. The individuals involved are suspected of committing financial fraud involving e-mail account intrusions worth six million Euros. A total of 49 suspects were arrested, 58 properties searched and numerous pieces of evidence, credit cards and cash seized.
Based on its success, the J-CAT is currently looking into extending its co-operation with other partners from law enforcement, judicial authorities – in particular Eurojust – and key partners emanating from the private sector.
Europol supports co-ordinated operation targeting organised crime around counterfeit medicines
Europol has supported a global operation co-ordinated by Interpol and targeting the criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines via illicit online pharmacies. Operation Pangea VIII has led to the arrest of 156 individuals worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous medicines worth US$81 million.
This huge initiative involved 115 countries and resulted in the launch of 429 investigations, the suspension of more than 550 adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals via social media platforms and 2,414 websites being taken offline.
For its part, Europol deployed a specialist in the Operations Centre based at Interpol’s General Secretariat in Lyon. Together with Europol’s liaison officer, the specialist cross-checked all incoming data with Europol’s databases and provided the relevant agencies with analysis reports when hits were found.
On top of that, Europol provided forensic support in Vienna to colleagues from Austria’s BKA, customs and the pharmaceutical agency AGES.
In addition to interventions on the ground (which included the discovery of an illicit warehouse full of counterfeit and expired medicines in Indonesia), Operation Pangea VIII targeted the main areas exploited by organised crime in the illegal online medicine trade: rogue domain name registrars, electronic payment systems and delivery services.
As well as raids at addresses linked to the illicit pharmaceutical websites, some 150,000 packages were inspected by customs and regulatory authorities. Of these, 50,000 were seized during the international week of action (which took place from 9-16 June).
Among the fake and illicit medicines seized during the operation were blood pressure and cancer medication as well as nutritional supplements. In the case of Indonesia, the authorities uncovered an operation wherein criminals were altering the expiry date or the amount of the active ingredient on packages of counterfeit, expired and unregistered medicines at the warehouse and returning them to a pharmacy for sale.
Operation Pangea VIII: 236 agencies involved
To date, Operation Pangea VIII is the largest-ever Internet-based operation focusing on the illicit sale of medicines and medical devices, with the participation of 236 agencies including police services, customs operations and health regulatory authorities.
Private partners from the Internet and payment industries also supported the determined law enforcement action which has seen a record number of 20.7 million illicit and counterfeit medicines seized.
Operation Pangea VIII was co-ordinated by Interpol together with the World Customs Organisation, the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime, the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers, the Pharmaceutical Security Institute and Europol.
Supported has also come from the Centre for Safe Internet Pharmacies as well as private sector companies including LegitScript, Google, Mastercard, Visa, American Express and PayPal.