Europol’s Innovation Lab has published a new report, entitled Policing in the metaverse: what law enforcement needs to know, provides a detailed overview of the potential for criminal activities within the metaverse, alongside the opportunities and best practices of building police presence online.
Just as with the early years of the internet, the ways in which metaverse-native crimes or the metaverse version of cybercrimes may occur are unknown. It is inevitable however, that as the metaverse develops it will open up different opportunities for criminal activity.
Ransomware-type attacks may be particularly effective on metaverse devices. Considering the increased importance of digital assets in the metaverse, losing access to them may be particularly debilitating. If this loss is in extended reality, or XR, where the virtual is blended with the real world, then it may have even greater consequences.
The metaverse is likely to contain far more detailed biometric information about individual users, such as eye tracking and haptics. That information will allow criminals to even more convincingly impersonate and steal someone’s identity.
And Europol warns that with more immersive technology and related generated data at their disposal, it will become easier for terrorists to select and target vulnerable people and tailor their messages to their biases.
“With virtual environments becoming more realistic, this may provide an increasingly useful environment for training, both in generally available applications and in specifically (re-)created environments and scenarios,” the report states. “As an increasingly accurate and complete digital twin of reality becomes available, this may provide real-time information on planned targets. At some point, this may even allow for military reconnaissance and planning to be carried out within the metaverse. On the other hand, the metaverse may allow users to create a virtual world as they envision the world should be, enabling them to create a virtual Caliphate or white supremacist state for example. Members of such places could live their virtual lives according to rules that may contradict fundamental laws and values of the society they live in in the physical world. For context, Nazi gas chambers have already been reported in Roblox.”
The report asks what safety measures metaverse service providers are required to implement, and what tools should law enforcement have to police the metaverse. To be a serious partner in these discussions, Europol says the law enforcement community will have to build an understanding of the relevant technologies and what is needed to effectively protect (and investigate) in the metaverse. The report provides suggestions on first steps for building this experience, as well as further positive examples of how law enforcement agencies are innovating in this field.
Europol says building a policing presence online is vital to support safety and security in the metaverse. “Being present online makes police officers more approachable to people in remote locations and to people who spend most of their time online,” the report says. “With the great variety of available online platforms, it is important to gather experience on a few selected major platforms and build on the experience and tools acquired during this work. Norway is a great example as it has started establishing its online presence in 2015 and now has ‘Nettpatrulje‘ or internet patrols in every district. They are present on several different social media, gaming and streaming platforms.” The report also cites an example from France when it launched an initiative to establish a presence on Fortnite to be available for children suffering from abuse to share their stories.
Europol adds that being in active conversation with the main actors developing the metaverse platforms is essential, as it allows both sides to get a better understanding to help make the platform a safe place and adapt legislation and law enforcement to the challenge. The report also says that legislation awareness is needed now before it is too late. “Currently legislation is already lacking for present-day cybercrime and online interactions,” the report notes. “With new types of experiences and possibilities in the metaverse, legislation will be found even more inadequate for the metaverse. Therefore, it will be important to raise awareness with our legislators of these issues and the tools law enforcement will need to fulfill their duties in these new virtual worlds.”
Europol’s report was published as its international counterpart, INTERPOL, launched the first global policing metaverse. And in May, the World Economic Forum announced a partnership with INTERPOL, Meta, Microsoft and others in an initiative to define and govern the Metaverse, as it warned that social engineering scams, violent extremism and misinformation could be particular challenges.