By Andrew Charlesworth

The European Commission has proposed establishing a dedicated Cybercrime Centre as part of Europol, the European Police Office, based in The Hague.

Europe’s cyber crime fighters should be ready for action by January 2013.

The proposal delivers on the promise to establish a co-ordinated cyber force that was made by the Commission back on 22 November 2010.

The centre will focus on illegal online activities carried out by organised crime groups, particularly those generating large criminal profits, such as online fraud involving credit cards and bank credentials.

“We can’t let cyber criminals disrupt our digital lives,” said Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for home affairs.

“A European Cybercrime Centre within Europol will become a hub for co-operation in defending an internet that is free, open and safe.”

The announcement coincides with the release of a report from the UK’s John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety revealing that at least 80 per cent of all digital crime committed now originates from organised gangs.

The centre is part of the EC’s ambition to build trust in a single pan-European digital market by cracking down on cyber crime.

Earlier this week, the European Parliament proposed a minimum two-year sentence for those found guilty of hacking crimes.

A focus of the new centre will be to protect social network profiles from e-crime infiltration and will help the fight against online identity theft.

It will also focus on cyber crimes that cause serious harm to their victims, such as online child sexual exploitation and cyber-attacks affecting critical infrastructure and information systems in the EU.

The centre will gather information to support investigations conducted by member states’ law enforcement agencies. This will allow the centre to identify the most dangerous, pressing cyber crime threats and networks in the EU.

Cyber crime crosses state borders. A breach of security at a bank in one country could be linked to similar incidents affecting the same bank in other countries. So the centre will develop a common standard for cyber crime reporting and will be able to alert individual police authorities.

The centre will also provide an early warning system for national law enforcement on new vulnerabilities or on how to handle technically challenging cases and provide specialist advice to investigators, prosecutors and judges.

Europol already deals with computer crime. However, it has limited resources, so cannot, for example, efficiently gather information from various sources as the new centre will.

Nor does Europol have the capacity to respond to queries from law enforcement authorities, the judiciary and the private sector.