The European Union will launch its cybercrime prevention centre on Friday, sharing expertise between member states in a bid to protect against the growing threat of online attacks.
The new European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), led by Europol, will spearhead a "significant shift" in the strategy employed by the EU in tackling cybercrime, adopting a more collaborative approach to combating criminals operating across international borders.
Based in The Hague, the cybercrime centre will provide operational support to EU countries, giving access to technical expertise in joint investigations and pooling resources to aid in the prevention of cybercrime and the prosecution of offenders.
The focus of the centre will be around protection against illegal online activities carried out by organised crime groups, particularly those targeting e-banking and other online financial activities. Online child sexual exploitation and attacks against critical infrastructure and information systems will also be main priorities.
The centre will be tasked with dismantling organised cyber crime networks, as well as gathering related data. A cybercrime helpdesk will also be set up for EU member states' law enforcement units.
A budget of €7 million has been earmarked for operational activities, with the centre employing 30 full time staff. Europol has indicated that it will make an additional 10 staff available where necessary.
The centre will also facilitate research and development, as well as producing threat assessments, threat forecasts and trend analyses.
"The Cybercrime Centre will give a strong boost to the EU's capacity to fight cybercrime and defend an internet that is free, open and secure," said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström.
"Cybercriminals are smart and quick in using new technologies for criminal purposes; the EC3 will help us become even smarter and quicker to help prevent and fight their crimes."
Troels Oerting, Head of the European Cybercrime Centre, acknowledged the size of the task faced in defending against cyber criminals which are able to ignore international borders that law enforcement agencies must adhere to.
"In combating cybercrime, with its borderless nature and huge ability for the criminals to hide, we need a flexible and adequate response," Oerting said.
"The European Cybercrime Centre is designed to deliver this expertise as a fusion centre, as a centre for operational investigative and forensic support, but also through its ability to mobilise all relevant resources in EU Member States to mitigate and reduce the threat from cybercriminals wherever they operate from."
Commenting on the launch of the cybercrime centre, David Emm, Senior Regional Researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said that it is vital the EU addresses the borderless nature of cybercrime if it is to keep pace with the agile nature of online crime.
“Cybercrime is crime 'over the wire'. It is, therefore seen to have no boundaries, allowing cybercriminals to attack anyone who's connected from anywhere in the world," " said Emm.
"Countries in the developed world have developed a wealth of expertise in dealing with cybercrime over the years. However, any previous response to cybercrime has been implemented locally; and this imposes restrictions on law enforcement agencies.
"These law enforcement agencies tend not to enjoy the same level of flexibility as those they are trying apprehend."
Emm added that the launch of the cybercrime centre and the more inclusive strategy is likely to enhance the ability of authorities to combat online criminal activity.
“The launch of a European cybercrime centre will definitely have a positive effect, not only in providing a centre of expertise, but in helping to co-ordinate the fight against cybercrime across the EU by providing a common framework for dealing with the problem.”