Cognyte Research Labs
February 04, 2021

How Digital Transformation is Giving Serious Crime and Terror a High-Tech Makeover

Digital transformation – the integration of technology into all areas of life – intrinsically changes how organizations and individuals do things. Everything, from business processes to personal habits, has been impacted by digital transformation.

But digital transformation can be a double-edged sword.

According to Professor Audrey Kronin, in her book, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists, We live in an epoch of unprecedented popular empowerment. Increasing access to information, rising global living standards, growing literacy, and improving medical care and longevity, are just a handful of the benefits derived from the modern march of technological innovation. Yet these same technologies that are furthering prosperity are creating critical new security vulnerabilities.” 

A High-Tech Makeover for Serious Crime and Terror

Criminal and terror groups have benefited from the rapid advances in technology, helping them to evade detection and find new markets for their illicit activities, while expanding their reach and malicious impact. What may come as a surprise is that evolving technology is not only helping criminals who deal directly in cybercrime, such as phishing, fraud, identity theft and financial crime. In fact, both traditional organized crime groups (OCGs) and terrorist groups are using technology to up their game.

For example, the increased availability of digital technologies has catalyzed a number of shifts in the market dynamics of the international illicit drug trade. According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, “Trafficking networks increasingly rely on online financial transactions, including payment apps on smartphones, like EcoCash. This allows consumers and dealers to avoid carrying cash, reducing the risk of cash being used as evidence in the event of arrest, and of being hijacked.” Dark web markets, on the other hand, have a big impact on the final links in the supply chain, and on consumer markets, by eroding the barriers to entry and enabling new players, not part of entrenched gangs and cartels, to reach consumers.

When it comes to crimes such as human trafficking, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime has found that technology acts as a risk multiplier. “Technological developments have changed every aspect of the human-trafficking process: from planning, to the recruitment and exploitation of victims, to transactions and money laundering.” Traffickers use communication apps and invitation-only deep web forums to anonymously and securely communicate with each other, to advertise fake jobs to lure in victims, and then to market their victims on various online platforms. Finally, the emergence of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Altcoin enables traffickers to anonymously receive and hide their illegal proceeds.

Terror groups and extremists directly benefit from increasing digital capabilities as well. For example, terrorists often plan and direct attacks using social media platforms and online forums. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Access to the internet, has changed the way individuals radicalize and plan attacks…online platforms offer more opportunities to become radicalized and accelerate the speed with which radicalized individuals mobilize.

And consider the crime-as-a-service (CaaS) model spreading via dark web marketplaces. In this model, experienced cyber-criminals sell prepackaged tool kits that put the power of advanced technologies and methodologies, such as ransomware, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), phishing, and malware kits in the hands of anyone willing to pay for them.

Enterprises also Feel the Effects

The challenge of growing security threats doesn’t only affect private citizens and government security agencies. Enterprises face increasingly sophisticated threats, including attacks that aim to disrupt business continuity, theft of intellectual property that can decimate their business, and theft of confidential customer data. Accenture estimates that the total value at risk from cybercrime, for enterprises across all industries, is estimated at $5.2 trillion over the next 5 years.


Enterprises need to protect the physical safety of their employees, valuable IP, as well as facilities and equipment, from perpetrators both inside and outside the organization. When it comes to cybercrime, for example, 55% of data breaches are perpetrated by organized criminal groups while 30% involve company insiders, according to the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations report.

From Local to Global Threats

Advancements in technology have also fueled a shift from security threats on a local scale to those with global reach. While security organizations once had to combat illegal activities on a local scale, today they face sophisticated cross-border crime networks as well as terrorist groups with affiliates across multiple countries. In addition, to add to the complexity, different types of perpetrators often cooperate when it serves their purposes. According to a report by the UN, “terrorists and organized criminals cooperate on the basis of shared territory or mutual interest, often drawing on personal connections forged in prisons.”

The Need for Security Analytics

In short, new technologies have made the task of detecting and mitigating security threats all the more complicated for security organizations, by enabling perpetrators to inflict more damage, while leaving fewer clues and giving less advance warning.

But here too, we see the potential of leveraging rapidly evolving technology as government and enterprise security organizations increasingly turn to security analytics platforms. Security analytics platforms enable security organizations to sift through and analyze the massive amounts of data created by crime and terror’s digital transformation to generate high-quality, actionable insights.

With the right tools, security organizations can detect hidden connections, suspicious patterns and anomalies, in order to predict and identify threats and reach resolutions faster. Instead of a fractured, siloed view of events, organizations can fuse data from diverse sources to create the full picture needed to make significant gains against bad actors.

Want to learn more about why increasingly complex and damaging security threats are driving security organizations to adopt security analytics platforms?

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