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EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts ahead of European Parliament elections in May

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EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts

Europol has announced that law enforcement agencies across EU member states are preparing to counter cross-border hacking attempts ahead of the European Parliament elections at the end of May.

Bracing for cyber attacks on democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organisations ahead of the vote, the European Council has formally adopted an EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol, which Europol said would serve as a tool to support law enforcement authorities across the union by providing an immediate response to major cross-border hacking attempts.

The protocol, which gives Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) a central role in responding to these types of threats, is intended to offer member states with a rapid assessment of hacking attempts, as well as the ability to share critical information in a secure and timely manner.

Under the terms of the protocol, EC3 will help member state law enforcement agencies coordinate the international aspects of any investigation into cross-border hacking attempts.

The adoption of the protocol comes after major cyber attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya that targeted national infrastructure and private businesses across Europe and elsewhere in 2017 demonstrated that member states were insufficiently prepared for the evolving nature of hackers’ methods.

Noting that the prospect of a major cyber attack having repercussions in the physical world is no longer the stuff of science fiction, Europol said the protocol complements existing EU crisis management mechanisms, and will help law enforcement agencies across tackle cyber security events of a malicious and suspected criminal nature.

Commenting on the adoption of the protocol, Wil van Gemert, Deputy Executive Director of Operations at Europol, said in a statement: “It is of critical importance that we increase cyber preparedness in order to protect the EU and its citizens from large scale cyber-attacks.

“Law enforcement plays a vital role in the emergency response to reduce the number of victims affected and to preserve the necessary evidence to bring to justice the ones who are responsible for the attack.”

The protocol was launched after the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) last week criticised the British government’s efforts to prepare for major cyber attacks from hacking groups or hostile nation states such as Russia.

The NAO said Britain remains vulnerable to hacking attempts that could affect crucial infrastructure, domestic networks, and businesses.

NAO chief Amyas Morse commented: “The government has demonstrated its commitment to improving cyber security.

“However, it is unclear whether its approach will represent value for money in the short term and how it will prioritise and fund this activity after 2021.”

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Over 200 held in Interpol-backed operation targeting Balkan human trafficking networks

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Interpol-backed operation targeting Balkan human trafficking networks

An Interpol-backed operation targeting human trafficking and migrant smuggling rings in the Balkans has resulted in the arrest of 236 organised crime network members.

Operation Theseus, an eight-day initiative that took place last month, involved 3,000 immigration and law enforcement agents from countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.

As well as resulting in the detention of scores of suspected members of organised immigration crime gangs, the operation also saw specialist units dispatched to smuggling hotspots such as border points, rail and bus stations and entertainment districts rescue 89 victims of human trafficking.

The crackdown also resulted in the detection of 2,000 migrants.

Over the course of the campaign, participating investigators carried out 2.5 million passenger checks and 54,000 vehicle assessments and monitored a total of 1,500 flights.

Raids carried out during the operation resulted in the seizure of more than 1,500 counterfeit passports and national ID cards, 30 boats, 200 inflatable boats and buoys, 10 firearms, 60kgs of drugs and $200,000 in cash.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol chief Jürgen Stock said in a statement: “Organised crime groups prey on the vulnerable and help them cross borders illegally for hefty sums.

“For some, the relationship ends on arrival but for others, it is only just the beginning of a bleak future of exploitation.

“Interpol’s role is to help police identify and break the networks behind this traffic and ensure their activities become more risky and less lucrative.”

Interpol said the operation was part of its wider efforts to disrupt human trafficking and migrant smuggling in the region, and was funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Separately, French and Dutch police have broken up a major organised immigration crime network that is thought to have smuggled some 10,000 Kurdish migrants into the UK.

The Europol-backed operation resulted in the detention of 23 suspected members of the gang, and the seizure of guns and cars.

Members of the network are said to have charged migrants as much as €7 000 ($7,732) each to be smuggled into the UK in refrigerated trucks.

In a statement, Europol said: “On the action day, Europol deployed two experts on-the-spot, one in France and one in the Netherlands, to cross-check operational information in real-time. This case was also developed as part of EMPACT JOT Dunqett operational action.”

 

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US big cat dealer jailed for 22 years for plotting to have animal rights activist killed and shooting tigers

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US big cat dealer jailed for 22 years

A former zookeeper from the US state of Oklahoma has been handed a 22-year jail term after being convicted of plotting to have a rival murdered and killing tigers.

Big cat dealer Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who also performed as a country and western singer, was this week found guilty of attempting to hire somebody to kill prominent animal rights activist Carole Baskin, who was critical of the manner in which he ran his sanctuary for abandoned animals.

Maldonado-Passage, who also went by the nickname Joe Exotic on account of his work with big cats, attempted to commission Baskin’s murder from an undercover agent working for the FBI, which was at the time investigating him for offering tigers for sale without the proper permits.

Prosecutors said that in November 2017, Maldonado-Passage offered $3,000 as an upfront payment for the murder of Baskin, with the promise of thousands more once she was dead.

Maldonado-Passage wanted Baskin to be killed after she secured a million-dollar judgment against his park.

The jury hearing the case was also told Maldonado-Passage personally shot and killed five tigers in October 2017 without a veterinarian present and in violation of the Endangered Species Act in order to make space for new animals.

Just a few hours after being sent out to consider the case against Maldonado-Passage, the jury returned to deliver guilty verdicts on two murder-for-hire counts, eight wildlife trafficking counts, and nine Endangered Species Act counts.

In a statement posted to Facebook in which he made clear he planned to appeal the sentence, Maldonado-Passage wrote: “I still maintain my innocence and looking (sic) forward in the upcoming days to my attorneys filing my appeal and moving onto the next step in this nightmare.”

Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said: “Wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity such as fraud, narcotics, money laundering and smuggling. Maldonado-Passage added murder-for-hire.

“The service along with our partners will continue to bring to justice those involved in wildlife trafficking and other assorted crimes.

“The successful outcome of this investigation is the result of working jointly with the US Attorney’s Office, Western District of Oklahoma, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to ensure the protection of a federally protected species.”

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European crackdown on counterfeit and smuggled pharmaceuticals results in seizure of 34.5 million drug units

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European crackdown on counterfeit and smuggled pharmaceuticals

A coalition of European law enforcement agencies has participated in a Europol-backed crackdown on the online and real-world distribution and sale of counterfeit and smuggled pharmaceuticals.

Led by police in Finland and France, the operation involved investigators from 11 European Union members states, Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The crackdown was also supported by agents from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

In a four-day operation that kicked off on 15 October last year, the results of which can only be revealed now for operational reasons, officers taking part in the crackdown broke up six organised crime networks involved in the distribution and sale of fake and smuggled pharmaceuticals.

The initiative saw investigators carry out 112 property raids across several countries, and make nearly 50 arrests in nations including Cyprus, Finland, France, Hungary, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

In total, the operation resulted in the confiscation of 34.5 million units of counterfeit and smuggled medicines, doping products and other substances estimated to be worth some €2.6 million ($2.88 million).

These included antihistamines, anxiolytics, erectile dysfunction pills, hormone and metabolic regulators, narcotics, painkillers, antioestrogens, antivirals and hypnotics.

In a statement announcing the results of the operation, Europol said that organised criminals routinely misuse pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient of nasal/sinus decongestant medicines to make methamphetamine.

“Drug addicts use psychotropics, which are mostly made from hypnotic medicines, to replace opioid drugs like heroin,” the agency said.

“Pseudoephedrine and psychotropic medicines were among the biggest seizures made on the action days.

“Stolen with fake medical prescriptions or acquired with the collaboration of complacent doctors and pharmacists, most of these medicines were diverted from the legitimate supply chain. Several thousands of the seized medicines were falsified.”

Separately, the leaders of seven African nations have agreed to draft new laws to criminalise the sale of counterfeit drugs.

At a two-day summit on counterfeit medicines in the Togolese capital of Lome, the heads of state of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda signed an agreement to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.

The summit was organised by the Brazzavile Foundation, which is expected to lead the agreed “Lomé Initiative” to end the illegal trafficking and use of counterfeit drugs.

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