The cyber-mafias. The ‘Fourth Age’ of organized crime.

Access to the Internet and to deep web has allowed and allows criminal groups to expand their own illegal activities. Mafia-type criminal organizations are increasingly and very ably exploiting cyber-space. A recent study by the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Security, London Metropolitan University, has defined the digital world as the ‘Fourth Age’ for organized crime.
To confront these so-called cyber-mafias, governments and law enforcement agencies of different countries have tried in recent years to adopt innovative technological tools and an overall coordination (more difficult to pursue, whereas the mafia groups acting in almost total agreement with each other, regardless of nationality, conduct their illicit trafficking both in traditional geographic space and also in the new dimension of cyberspace).

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The European Union has decided to tackle this phenomenon with the establishment of the European Cyber Center at Europol. This structure, specialized in combating cybercrime, operational from the beginning of 2013, intends to fight mafias and criminal groups in cyberspace. Europol has conducted several analytical studies (such as the recent Exploring Tomorrow’s Organised Crime) to understand how to fight the new opportunities of illicit business provided by cyberspace to criminal gangs and mafia gangsters. These latter, in fact, are no longer dealing exclusively with the ‘classic’ business such as the sale of drugs, human trafficking, prostitution and gambling, the counterfeiting of currency and luxury goods. For Europol officials, the new fields of action are the crypto-currency, illegal access to the world of big-data to steal sensitive data, the exploitation of the dark side of the network that is deep web, to operate in total anonymity and, in the near future, the utilization of nanotechnology.

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These studies are also the offspring of the mapping of mafia groups made by Europol itself. In fact, according to some  experts quoting the detailed work of Europol and specifically SOCTA (Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment), “SOCTA considers the EU as one single territory, and this represents a quantum leap in clarity and incisiveness with regard to previous studies, and focuses attention on the geomafia dimension”. Experts  note that this is finally an important paradigmatic change, to depart from the analysis of mafia phenomena confined only to individual nations, an approach that has been followed by the United States as well.
This ‘local/provincial approach’ has instead been surpassed a very long time ago by the Russian and Mexican mafias and almost all the other mafia gangs. A salient fact is the current world division into three main transcontinental macro-markets: ‘the Pacific market (with a poly-productive and poly-consumer trend, in which Mexico excels, covering cocaine globally, producing synthetic drugs and cannabis for the continent); the Atlantic one (dominated by cocaine) and the Eurasian one (Afghanistan, the production and dominant center of heroin)’.
In Europe alone, the opiate market is estimated as being equal to 12 billion euro in value. The UN also has, since 2010, made an effort to think transnationally with TOCTA (Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment) precisely because the criminal threats they are facing don’t have any type of borders, neither geographic nor technological.
The arrival of the Internet has created many new ‘dark-businesses’ and consequently new illegal markets, which are coveted by the largest criminal groups. In the three macro-markets mentioned above and in the network world, the Russian and Mexican mafia organizations are among the principal actors.

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In this context it is worthwhile to mention the crypto-currencies. Are they not perhaps the perfect currency for the cybermafias? The recent emergence of the so-called crypto-currency, Bitcoin, opens the way to a great deal of criticism, because the inherent characteristics of immateriality make it subject to being used by criminal groups both Russian and Mexican, and also by criminal organizations of other nations. According to the anti-Mafia Italian magistrate Nicola Gratteri and the scholar Antonio Nicaso, in their last published work, Oro bianco (‘White Gold’): ‘that of the crypto-currency, that is the currency that exist only on the Internet is a frontier in continuous exploration. It is called Bitcoin’.
In Canada there are already bankomats that in the form of rechargeable cards, provide Bitcoin. And they cite the European Bank to the effect that: ‘Bitcoin can be found easily by using specialized operating systems, operated by foreign companies, which allow the activation of an on-line account similar to a bank account’. There are also locales and shops, not only online, that accept Bitcoin. Because they can be traded anonymously and without intermediation, Bitcoin have earned themselves the charge of being the currency queen of deep web, the dark side of the Net in the hands of the mafias, 2.0 of drug trafficking, of forgeries and of weapons. (M.L.)


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