THE HAGUE • Live streaming of child sexual abuse and so-called "revenge porn" is on the rise on the Internet, Europe's police agency warned yesterday, saying vulnerable children are increasingly falling victim to sexual predators.
"Live distant child abuse is... being reported as a growing threat," Europol said in its latest annual Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment, released at its headquarters in The Hague.
Live streaming of child sex abuse "involves a perpetrator directing the live abuse of children on a (pre-arranged) specific timeframe through video sharing platforms", Europol said in the 72-page report.
"The abuse can be 'tailored' to the requests of the soliciting offender(s) and recorded," it added.
More generally, "the volume, scope and material cost of cybercrime all remain on an upward trend and have reached very high levels", the agency said in a separate statement.
Most illegal activities take place in the so-called "dark net" or encrypted peer-to-peer networks, which offer a greater degree of anonymity to users.
Traditionally, live stream child abuse groups are based in South-east Asia, particularly the Philippines, but "more recent reports indicate that it is now spreading to other countries", Europol warned.
"Regions of the world with high levels of poverty, limited domestic child protection measures and easy access to children are being targeted by offenders," the policing agency said, without naming specific countries.
"The exploitation of children online is a huge problem for us," Mr Steven Wilson, Europol's cybercrime centre chief, told Agence France-Presse in an interview.
He added that cybercrime investigators have noticed a rise in so-called "revenge porn", where sexually explicit images are posted without another person's consent in order to harm that person or cause distress.
To counter these threats, Europol is working on a series of information videos on the dangers of online sexual abuse, which will soon be distributed in schools across various European countries.
The report also highlights other online cybercrimes, such as the growing threat of ransomware, that infects a victim's computer and then captures data, before demanding a payment for the data to be released.
Whereas ransomware used to target individual victims and small businesses, it now focused on major companies and even public institutions such as hospitals, Mr Wilson said.
"We have seen instances where hospitals have had their records locked out, potentially with fatal consequences," he said, referring to an ongoing case in the United States.
The report also touched on payment fraud, with logical and malware attacks against automated teller machines continuing to evolve and proliferate.
What's more, organised crime groups are starting to manipulate or compromise payments involving contactless near-field communication cards, according to the report.