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Cyber crime police investigations reach record levels

Since the Cyber Crime Unit was set up in 2003, it has investigated 30 cyber terrorism cases, five of which took place last year.

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
18 December 2014, 8:04am
Police data revealed to MaltaToday indicate that criminals are increasingly taking to the digital world to carry out their dirty work, with cyber crime police having to investigate a record 616 cyber cases in 2013.

This is an increase from 576 cases in 2012 and 372 cases in 2011. Since the Cyber Crime Unit was set up in 2003, it has investigated 30 cyber terrorism cases, five of which took place last year.

In the past ten years, it has also investigated 164 cases involving child pornography, 11 cases of human trafficking, 89 cases of sexual offences and six cases involving prostitution. 

“Cyber policing is the future of policing,” Cyber Crime Unit Inspector Timothy Zammit said recently at a conference held to discuss the challenges teachers face as a result of the Internet.

“Yet only myself and seven sergeants are employed in the unit and it is difficult to convince people to take us seriously. Funding is very difficult to come by too.” 

The most popular crime is ‘computer misuse’, a broad term that includes hacking, virus use and bombarding servers with traffic. 

Cyber crimes involving fraud and forgery remain popular as well, with the Cyber Crime Unit investigating 120 such cases last year. These include people succumbing to online pop-ups or messages congratulating the user on winning a grand prize or warning them that their computer has been infected by a virus. 

“Believe it or not, but people still fall victim to such simple online scams,” Zammit said. 

Cyber ‘hate crime’ involving insults and threats has steadily risen over the years and the police investigated 137 such cases last year.  Cyber hate crimes that specifically incite racial hatred have spiked dramatically, with the Cyber Crime Unit having received 13 such reports in 2013, more than they had received over the previous 10 years.     

“We are witnessing a rise in online ‘sextortionists’ who blackmail people with their naked pictures and video clips and threaten to send them to their friends and family,” Zammit warned. 

With 616 cyber crime cases in a year in a country where Internet access is now widespread – 80% of households had Internet access at the latest count – Zammit said that a lot of cyber cases slip under the radar. 

“The actual figures are probably much higher,” he said. “Sometimes, people are scared or embarrassed to report certain cyber cases to the police. At other times, they are simply unaware that they have fallen victim to cyber crimes such as hacking and assume that there was something wrong with their computer system.” 

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono is a journalist at MaltaToday
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