'War-like' cybercrime threatens European growth


State-backed hackers are aiming to create "war-like activities" that could harm economic growth in Europe, the region's cybercrime chief warned on Tuesday.

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The stark warning from Troels Oerting, head of the European Cybercrime Center and assistant director at law enforcement agency Europol, comes as governments and law enforcement agencies across Europe are already struggling to contain the threat of cybercrime.

"What we are looking at is state-sponsored activity and it is no secret that we have state-sponsored activities…aimed at starting warlike activity," Oerting said at a speech at the Infosecurity Europe conference in London Tuesday.

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A report from Verizon showed cyber-espionage incidents – which see online hackers attempt to access secret information - tripled last year to 511, driven by east-Asian cybercriminals. Meanwhile, a study from PwC found that that the cost of a cybersecurity breach to a leading U.K. companies is getting higher and higher, with costs hitting £1.15 million ($1.9 million) in the last 12 months,a new study shows -- despite the frequency of attacks falling.

"What we see now it has intensified a bit because there is huge appetite for stealing information. This is something we need to look at because this will harm our economy and threaten growth," Oerting told CNBC in an interview following the keynote.

The European Union is attempting to crack down on the constantly evolving world of cybercrime. On Monday, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA), launched the largest-ever "stress test" of the bloc's capability to withstand a cyber attack.

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Dark web troubles

The so-called "dark web" was also highlighted as a problem area for law enforcement agencies. The dark web is often described as a "secret" internet that is accessed via protective online gateways. Users can stay anonymous while carrying out illegal activities such as purchasing drugs.

Websites such as Silk Road that sold illegal drugs and only accessible via the dark net was shut down last year by U.S. authorities.

Oerting said the dark web was almost impenetrable by the U.S. National Security Agency and the anonymity of users makes it difficult for criminals to be caught.

"It is very difficult even impossible for law enforcement agencies to penetrate the dark net. Policing will be undercover, but still we cannot make the attribution needed by law enforcement to identify a criminal," Oerting told CNBC.

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Terrorism threat

Oerting also warned about the increasing threat posed by terrorists using the internet to further their message and raise funds.

"The maturity of the planning from the usual suspects like the Taliban and Al Qaeda will be under traditional and violent killings and bombs," Oerting told CNBC.

"Right now I think we need to prepare ourselves for what they might think of crippling us with in cyberspace."