Europe's new digital crime hub will concentrate on combating attacks on critical infrastructure and pursuing crimes such as e-banking fraud, officials said as they revealed more details about the proposed organisation.
The European Cybercrime Centre in The Hague will pool information from private and public organisations, and will offer advice to businesses on cyberattacks.
The European Cybercrime Centre, based at Europol in The Hague, will probably begin work in January with a staff of 36, according to European Commission home affairs spokesman Michele Cercone. As a clearinghouse, it will compile data from a range of bodies to support investigations throughout the region, as well as acting as a hub to co-ordinate training and answer inquiries.
"To achieve its tasks and to better support cybercrime investigators, prosecutors and judges in the member states, the centre will fuse information from open sources, private industry, police and academia," Cercone told ZDNet UK on Wednesday.
"The new centre will also serve as a knowledge base for national police in the member states, and it will pool European cybercrime expertise and training efforts. It will be able to respond to queries from cybercrime investigators, prosecutors and judges, as well as the private sector, on specific technical and forensic issues," he added.
In addition, the centre will tackle identity theft, social network infiltration and online sexual exploitation, the Commission said in unveiling its proposals for the centre on Wednesday.
"Millions of Europeans use the internet for home banking, online shopping and planning holidays, or to stay in touch with family and friends via online social networks," Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement. "But as the online part of our everyday lives grows, organised crime is following suit — and these crimes affect each and every one of us."
"We can't let cybercriminals disrupt our digital lives. A European Cybercrime Centre within Europol will become a hub for co-operation in defending an internet that is free, open and safe," she added.
Part of the centre's remit is to warn EU member states of major cybercrime threats and alert them of weaknesses in their online defences, the Commission said.
According to Cercone, data on possible flaws in nations' defences will be identified in the process of pooling information on attacks.
The centre will aim to identify members of organised cybercrime gangs, and "prominent offenders in cyberspace", he told ZDNet UK. In its statement, the Commission said cybercrime costs UK businesses £21bn a year, with consumers losing a total of £3.1bn and government £2.2bn.
A European Cybercrime Centre within Europol will become a hub for co-operation in defending an internet that is free, open and safe.– Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner
Police agencies including the Metropolitan Police Central eCrime Unit (PCeU) and the FBI have devoted resources towards alleged hackers, including members of the LulzSec and Anonymous groups, over the past year. The new centre will provide operational support and forensic assistance for police, as well as help set up joint investigation teams.
The Commission conducted a feasibility study for a Cybercrime Centre in 2010, then promised to set one up as part of the cybercrime provision laid out in the Stockholm Programme the same year. The proposal unveiled on Wednesday now needs to be adopted by the Europol management board before it can be ratified, which the Commission must do fairly quickly if it is to hit its proposed January opening date.
Security vendors welcomed the proposals. Network defence company Wave Systems said that the extent of cybercrime, which is typically only estimated, could be properly gauged using information from the centre.
"The announcement by the Commission shows a serious intent to fight back against the torrent of cybercrime that has affected organisations worldwide for too long," Joseph Souren, the company's European general manager, said in a statement. "Co-ordinated efforts led by units such as the EU Cybercrime Centre can... help to map the extent of online criminal activity."
To support the effort, Arbor Networks called for greater private sector transparency in reporting cybercrime.
"We believe that the EU's move towards creating this centre is a step in the right direction, but there needs to be a co-ordinated effort across the industry to really make this work," Jeremy Nicholls, Arbor Networks European channel director, said in a statement.
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