Digital currencies are increasingly serving as a money laundering platform for "freelance criminal entrepreneurs operating on a crime-as-a-service business model", according to a new Europol report.
The EU's law enforcement agency said that the decline of traditional hierarchical criminal networks will be accompanied by the emergence of individual criminal entrepreneurs, who come together on a project basis.
The report, which identified the key driving factors affecting the EU's criminal landscape, predicted that the role of freelance crime organisers is expected to "become more prominent".
It added that individuals with computer expertise are very valuable to criminal organisations and that people with such skills are expected to advertise their services in exchange for payment in cryptocurrencies.
The report continued:
"Virtual currencies are an ideal instrument for money laundering. In addition to traditional layering methods, cryptocurrencies use specialised laundering services to obfuscate transactions to the point where it is very resource-intensive to trace them."
Despite acknowledging that digital currencies are generally designed for legitimate use, the analysis stated that their anonymity means that they are "heavily abused by criminals".
"As virtual currencies continue to evolve, it is likely that more niche currencies will develop, tailored towards illicit activity and providing greater security and true anonymity", it noted, adding that "the anonymity afforded to the buyer by the use of cryptocurrency may lower the entry barriers for members of the general public to become involved in the online purchase of illegal materials".
The publication of the report follows on from another study produced by Europol's EC3 cybercrime centre, which detailed that bitcoin was increasingly being used to pay for livestreams of child sex broadcasted over illicit internet sites.
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