Troels Oerting, Head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre

Technology is neither inherently good, nor inherently evil, but it will always find dodgy applications as the techniques and processes it makes possible percolate through society at large.

Case in point? Bulgarian and Spanish authorities, working alongside agents of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre in The Hague, say they've taken down a Bulgarian organized crime network using sophisticated 3D printing technology to commit a variety of crimes which include ATM skimming, electronic payment fraud and document forgery.

The investigation began in earnest when a pair of Bulgarian citizens, 29-year-old Ivan Rangelov and 32-year-old Svetoslav Sariev, who were arrested in a suburb of Lima, Peru for credit-card related offenses, evolved into what authorities called Operation Imperium. The sting led to 31 arrests and 40 home searches in Malaga, Spain and in Sofia, Burgas, and Silistra, Bulgaria and netted eight criminal labs capable of producing card-skimming equipment and counterfeit documents.

Inside those labs, authorities culled some 1000 devices, micro camera bars, card readers, magnetic strip readers and writers, computers, phones, flash drives and plastic cards ready to be encoded.

The thieves used 3D printing equipment to make convincing, but fake, plastic card slot bezels they installed on ATM machines and Point of Sale terminals.

The simultaneous raids on September 30 were supported by Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) officers located in the Europol headquarters in The Hague.

The investigators say the criminal networks used stolen financial data from ATMs and POS terminals throughout Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and Turkey to create fake payment cards which they used to withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs in far-flung locales like Peru and the Philippines.

"We've hit another international organized payment crime network, which sends a strong signal to cybercriminal groups active in this field," said Troels Oerting, the Head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre. "It also shows that police as well as other law enforcement authorities in the EU are putting Europol's unique tools to very good use to make electronic payment transactions safer. At the same time this successful case proved a very good use of the J-CAT framework which helped in the final stages of investigation."

The J-CAT program, initiated by Europol's EC3, the EU Cybercrime Taskforce, the FBI and the NCA, is tasked with preventing cybercrime. Investigators say they've recently seen a rapid increase in major international cases. The project is aimed at gathering data on specific criminal themes and it uses data from national repositories and government and private partners. The investigators say the raw data is transformed into actionable intelligence to select targets and networks for attention. The project also covers malware coding operations and online fraud.

In addition, it will organize dedicated consultation meetings with key actors in the private sector and the Computer Emergency Response Teams for the EU institutions, bodies and agencies (CERT-EU), to obtain their input on cybercrime threats that affect them and society in general.