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Cybercrime continues to rise

Paedophiles are known to lurk in chat rooms used by children

(Keystone)

Switzerland's federal cybercrime police unit has reported a further increase in suspected cases of internet abuse.

The Coordination Unit for Cybercrime Control (Cyco) said on Thursday that child pornography was of particular concern last year.

Cyco received 7,345 notifications of possible internet abuse in 2005, around 100 more per month than in previous years.

In 2003 and 2004, the unit mostly received complaints about spam. But last year, users were concerned about hardcore pornography involving children.

According to David Billard, a lecturer at Lausanne's University's School of Criminal Sciences, this is not surprising.

"People have become more aware of the phenomenon, especially because of media coverage of court cases, and also because they have often been inundated with unsolicited emails containing child pornography," he told swissinfo.

Online scams were also on the rise.

Once it has been notified of potential internet abuse, the unit begins monitoring suspected sites. Last year, it focused on potential cases of child abuse and pornography.

Prosecution

However Cyco cut down on the number of cases it passed on to ensure prosecution was successful, dropping from 438 in 2004 to 272 last year.

These cases were considered to be more sound since criminal investigations almost always ensued and police usually found incriminating evidence at suspects' homes and workplaces.

But finding enough clues to launch a full-blown investigation can be a thankless task.

"It's not easy to accumulate evidence over time, because it's not simple to link different cases," said Billard.

Cyco said that another major concern was the increasing presence of adults in online chat rooms used by children and teenagers, especially since securing a conviction is problematic.

The cybercrime specialists warned that these adults try to get in touch with youngsters and express their desire to meet them using language with strong sexual overtones.

Grooming

The unit said that this so-called grooming was aimed at getting in touch with minors and put children's sexual integrity at high risk.

Billard told swissinfo that using a chat room to look for contacts does not require any particular technical proficiency. "The real difficulty is concealing the fact that you are an adult," he added.

According to Billard, paedophiles are becoming more proficient when it comes to communicating data, and most child abuse files are encrypted nowadays.

For the police, the best way of cracking paedophile rings for the time being is to go on undercover fishing expeditions themselves and to try and hook child abusers on the net. Many recent cases that have been cracked abroad recently relied on this technique.

"In Switzerland, there is certainly enough manpower to carry this out," said Billard.

"The real problem is that cybercrime rarely stops at the border, and in many cases offenders operate online from abroad or via internet services outside the country."

Cyco has undertaken preventive work in the past year to counter this trend and raise awareness of cybercrime. It has worked closely with the Swiss Centre for Crime Prevention on a national campaign against internet paedophilia.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Internet is considered a space where children can develop, but where they may also become the victims of criminals.

Internet enables offenders to target children individually or collectively.

Possible motives include personal gratification, often by way of sexual exploitation.

Information technology can also support criminal exploitation of children without the child being directly involved.

For example, it may be used to facilitate access, storage, trade or possession of child pornography; to support information sharing among paedophile networks; and to assist with the organisation of illegal activities such as child prostitution.

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Key facts

Cyco's role is to monitor the internet to identify criminal misuse and process reports regarding suspect subject matter.
It verifies whether the suspect subject matter constitutes a criminal offence and refers cases to the relevant prosecution authorities at home and abroad (187 cases in 2005).
It also conducts analysis of the general situation in Switzerland.

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