Law enforcement agency Europol has detected an alarming increase in the number of cyber scams being run by Italian Mafia groups.
Europol issued the warning in its 2013 Threat Assessment of Italian Organised Crime, confirming that it has seen a marked increase in Mafia groups' use of internet tools and services as both a means to streamline their real-world operations and to mount money-making cyber scams. The agency highlighted criminals' use of free services, such as Skype, as a particular issue.
"Overall the phenomenal growth of the internet has brought positive developments in everyday life. It offers a wide range of opportunities to business and public alike, including facilitating an unprecedented reach to the wider public and providing secure information exchange (including the use of popular encrypted messaging services such as Skype, Viber, Whatsapp)," said the report.
"These opportunities apply equally for organised crime, enabling it to engage in highly profitable quasi-legal or illegal services or activities and any effective strategy to counter organised crime will have to take this key enabler into consideration."
Europol said it has only detected the tip of the cyber iceberg and is yet to ascertain the true level and scale of the Mafia cyber threat, though it is undoubtedly a big one.
"Easy profits, low regulatory scrutiny, and possibilities to operate anonymously are an inevitable attraction to Italian organised crime groups, which – though the nature and scale of the threat is not yet clear – are likely to increase their engagement in this field in the near future," it said.
"Cyber crime in the wider sense is the new frontier, and the Mafias have a pioneering attitude to new markets."
The Italian Mafia is one of many criminal groups entering into the cyber space. Europol reported seeing a similar trend in numerous other European regions in its Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment report earlier this year.
Despite the rapid increase in cyber crime levels Europol has mounted several successful raids on cyber criminal gangs. Most recently Europol reported taking down an Asian criminal network believed to have stolen around 15,000 credit card numbers.