Cyber-centre to shield EU against online crime

BRUSSELS Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:13am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission laid out plans on Wednesday for a centre to combat illegal online activity and shield the EU against cyber-crime, a rapidly expanding enterprise that costs global business an estimated $380 billion a year.

The EU cyber-crime centre, to be based in the Netherlands, is expected to be running by January 2013, pending approval by the budgetary authority of Europol, the pan-European police force. The centre would be co-located with Europol in The Hague.

The centre, proposed by the European Commission, will focus on fraud involving the online theft of credit card and bank details, while working to coordinate the protection of EU businesses and citizens from organized online crime.

"As the online part of our everyday lives grows, organized crime is following suit," said Cecilia Malmstrom, the European commissioner for home affairs, as she presented the proposal in Brussels on Wednesday.

Over a third of the EU's 500 million citizens bank online, and an estimated $8 trillion changes hands globally each year in e-commerce, said the Commission.

Reports of cyber-crime are rising year-on-year, with groups of hackers developing ever more ingenious methods of by-passing corporate IT security systems and firewalls.

Online fraud is estimated to be worth as much as $388 billion a year globally, according to a report by Norton, the anti-virus software provider.

In 2011, security experts McAfee unearthed the biggest series of cyber-attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 global organizations, including the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, and the U.S. government.

The call for the centre follows the passage of a draft law by the European Parliament's civil liberties committee on Tuesday that would make attacks on IT systems a criminal offence punishable by at least two years in prison.

(Reporting and writing by Daniel Rolle, editing by Luke Baker)

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