ARTICLE: Acting to stop cybercrime

In an opinion piece, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, points out that the global cost of cybercrime already amounts to 600 billion dollars. He advocates strengthening cooperation between countries and between the public and private sectors to promote capacity building for actors involved in combating such violations.

By Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Cyber. It is the inevitable prefix that currently defines our world. From people's privacy to inter-state relations, the term "cyber" dominates the headlines and discussions - so much so that we risk being paralyzed by the magnitude of the problems we face.

Despite the many remaining questions about the future of cybersecurity and governance, we must take into account that international cooperation is the key element in addressing the growing threats of cybercrime.

Online exploitation and abuse of girls and boys; the black cyber markets for the purchase and sale of illicit drugs and firearms; ransomware attacks and human traffickers making use of social networks to attract victims. The unprecedented scope of cybercrime - crossing borders in our homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and other vital service providers - only amplifies the threats.

A recent study has estimated the global cost of cybercrime at $ 600 billion. The damage done to sustainable development, security, gender equality, and protection - women and girls are disproportionately hampered by online sexual abuse - is immense.

Keeping people online more secure is a huge task and no entity or government has the perfect solution. Nevertheless, much can be done to intensify prevention and improve the response to cybercrimes, for example:

. Build capacities, mainly law enforcement to cover possible legal gaps, particularly in developing countries;

. And strengthen international cooperation and dialogue - between governments and the United Nations, as well as with other international and regional organizations, INTERPOL, business and civil society.

Crimes related to cybercrime, such as the spread of malware, ransomware, and hacking, the use of other programmes for financial data theft, online child sexual exploitation and abuse, all have something in common beyond the term "cyber ": all are crimes.

Police, prosecutors, and judges need to understand these crimes and must have the appropriate tools to enable them to investigate and prosecute offenders as well as protect victims. They must also be able to process and prosecute cases.

At the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), we are working in more than 50 countries, by providing the necessary training to enhance research skills, crypto-coins tracking as part of financial investigations, as well as the use of software to detect abuse online and chase down the abusers.

As a direct result of capacity building in countries, a high-risk pedophile with more than 80 victims was arrested, tried and convicted. We conducted training sessions in collaboration with the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) and Facebook. This is just one example of how capacity building - in coordination with civil society organizations and the private sector - can ensure that criminals are behind bars and that vulnerable children are protected.

In a work with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), portals have been launched to report cases of child sexual abuse - more recently in Belize - so that citizens can take initiative and report images of abuse, protecting the girls and boys from online exploration.

With partners like Thorn and Pantallas Amigas, we are strengthening online protection and educating parents, guardians, and children about cyber risk by approaching schools and local communities. Prevention is the key to the issue.

UNODC training - focused mainly on Central America, the Middle East, North and East Africa and Southeast Asia - is also helping to identify digital evidence on illicit drug trafficking, to confront the use of darknet for criminal purposes and to improve data collection to better address threats.

A key foundation for all our efforts is international cooperation. Our work - which is entirely funded by donor governments - has shown that, despite political differences, countries can come together to counter the threats of cybercrime.

In the same way, we are strengthening international cooperation through the Intergovernmental Group of Experts, which meets at the UNODC headquarters in Vienna.

The Expert Group, created through a General Assembly resolution, brings together diplomats, policymakers and experts from around the world to discuss the most pressing cybercrime challenges. These meetings demonstrate the willingness and willingness of governments to seek pragmatic cooperation with a view to improving prevention mechanisms and building trust.

As a next step, we need to increase such efforts by providing more resources to support developing countries that often have newer Internet users and weaker defenses against cybercrime.

Technology companies are an indispensable ally in the fight against cybercrime. We need to strengthen the relationship of the public sector with the private sector in order to address common concerns, also improving education and stopping the availability of online abuse material.

Neutralizing cybercrime can save many lives, increase prosperity and build peace. By strengthening law enforcement capabilities and building alliances with businesses so that they can be part of the solution, we can move forward to ensure that the Internet is a force for good.

We thank our UN Online Volunteer, Juliana Nogueira, for her contribution to the translation of this article.  Juliana is an online volunteer mobilised through

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