THE BLOG

World Cup... Prime Time for Cybercrime

13/06/2014 10:21 BST | Updated 08/08/2014 10:59 BST

With World Cup mania underway fans everwhere need to keep track of their smartphone. Cybercrime has become a pandemic and smartphone theft is where it all begins.

As Latin America's largest country, host nation Brazil has been already been tagged by Interpol as a major center for illegal smartphone trafficking.

World Cup fans in financial centers like London, New York and Hong Kong are targets of opportunity too.

If you get a quick refill at a trendy coffee shop and leave your phone unattended your mobile lifestyle and all the private data it contains could disappear and turn into a nightmare before you get back from the counter. Last year smartphone users who are fans of Real Madrid were targeted by hackers in a cyberattack on Facebook that grabbed personal data.

A study by the New York Police Department (NYPD) has found a direct correlation between the increase in smartphone theft and the launching of new models.

Samsung, Apple and Amazon are all launching new models as part of their World Cup marketing surge.

Behind the smiling faces in the land of the samba established gangs sometimes use minors as child soldiers to scout and steal smartphones in affluent neighborhoods of Rio like Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon and bring them back to their bosses, some of whom are associated with violent favela comandos.

In Sao Paulo, the restaurants, hotels and clubs favored by World Cup tourists around the posh Avenida Paulista are a target of opportunity for smartphone thieves.

Stolen devices are then quickly resold or disassembled and parted out just like automobile "chop shops" do with automobiles, sometimes to international gangs.

Recently, the United States department of state updated its visitor information website for those traveling to Brazil, offering a very tough assessment of the situation (click on the safety & security section to read it).

As part of its $530 million program to guarantee the security of the World Cup in Brazil the government of president Dilma Rousseff has set up a special cybercrimes unit. But its primary mission is to defeat hacktivists who are using social media sites to brag about their plan to take down critical elements of the World Cup computer infrastructure.

Local police, often understaffed and operating under tight budgets, classify smartphone theft as a petty crime. Tourists are encouraged to go through the procedure of filing a complaint at a local police station (delegacia), but law enforcement has little time to budget for investigating cases unless officials notice a pattern of organized criminal activity.

Smartphone theft is also a major problem in the Andean region of South America.

Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela all have large narco economies where trading stolen smartphones for drugs is common practice. An in-depth study published last year on HuffPo in the United States throws sunshine on how the racket operates in Colombia, the regional leader in cybercrime.

According to Interpol and Ecuador's ministry of telecommunications 14.5 million mobile units have been stolen in the region.

It's as if some of the young and restless among Latin America's emerging generation are not only wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, they are following the message of revolutionary leader, who said "the revolution isn't a riple apple. You need to shake the tree and make them fall."

Football and the internet are helping to bring the world together. But without cybersecurity that starts with every smartphone owner, the much coveted mobile lifestyle the phones offer is becoming part of the class struggle between the have not's who seek to be included in the growing digital economy and the wealthy elites who are content to keep them off the playing field and on the wrong side of the digtal divide.