Lab Wins New £450,000 ESRC Cybercrime Grant

24th October 2018


How online technologies are transforming transnational organised crime.

Experts from Cardiff University are leading on a major new research project which will assess how new technologies are influencing transnational organised crime (Cyber-TNOC).

Professor Mike Levi, Dr Luca Giommoni and Professor Matthew Williams, criminologists at the School of Social Sciences, along with Professor Pete Burnap from the School of Computer Science and Informatics, all members of the Social Data Science Lab, have secured funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to investigate the ways in which criminals are making use of cyber and allied technologies.

Their work will focus on modern slavery, the sale of illicit drugs, the propagation of malware and money laundering, including ‘money muling’. These crimes generate substantial online data resulting from the use of communications and social media technologies used by traffickers, software coders and financial transactions.

By collecting this new data, as well as harvesting interviews and administrative records, the team will produce the clearest picture yet of how online technologies are reshaping transnational organised crime.

The study also brings together academics from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan, University of Surrey and the University of Montreal.

The team will work closely with private and public sector bodies, including fraud prevention organisation CIFAS, professional services firm Deloitte, South Wales Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Professor Levi, Lab Associate, said: “As societies across the world are becoming increasingly more interconnected and digital, organised crime is adapting to this new landscape and integrating new technologies into the ways they operate. Europol data show significant increases in international groups operating within the EU in 2017 compared with 2013, and in their use of online methods to facilitate their activities.

“In April 2018, the National Crime Agency arrested a criminal group selling illicit drugs to the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Singapore via a site on the dark web. The Russian gang behind the Koobface botnet, which propagated via social networks, infected up to 800,000 machines around the world and made $2M dollars annually.

Traffickers can also use social networks and online advertising sites to market, recruit, sell, and exploit victims of modern slavery. These criminal groups resort to Centralised Virtual Currencies or Cryptocurrencies to conceal the illicit origin of their finances and to invest into the legal economy.”

Co-investigator and Lab Associate Dr Luca Giommoni, said: “Organised crime is changing rapidly. Researchers and practitioners need innovative methods to better respond to organised crime groups exploiting online technologies.

“This project will be the first one to build up a strong evidence base to inform policy development. The research will demonstrate how traditional and new forms of data, when analysed with social network analysis and artificial intelligence, has the potential to transform how governments, criminal justice and the private sector can work to address crimes that have a huge impact globally.”

The team begin their research in January 2019 with their first findings expected to be published in 2020-21.