At the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Brazil this week nations debated how to tackle what they agreed was a major and growing problem.
Delegates identified the main problems as computer-based fraud and forgery, illegal interception of private communications, interference with data and misuse of electronic devices, according to a UN-published account of the meeting.
But countries could not decide how best to tackle the problems. Spain, which holds the European Union presidency and spoke for the EU, said that an international agreement should be an extension of the existing Budapest Convention, a Council of Europe agreement on cybercrime fighting.
Colombia agreed and called for the Council of Europe to share more information on how countries could adopt the same approach.
"The Convention formed the basis of a Colombian law adopted in 2009 which set new standards of conduct, in addition to punitive measures, judicial guidelines on information protection, and equipment to enforce them," that country's representative told the meeting, according to the UN. "Colombian officials had also formed bilateral cooperation mechanisms on cybersecurity with Chile, Mexico and other countries."
The Convention seeks to harmonise the laws of countries which sign it on hacking, piracy, child abuse depictions and other areas of cybercrime.
Brazil, though, called for the creation of a new agreement under the banner of the UN that would address regional concerns about cybercrime.
Oman's representative said that nations should revitalise a 2008 proposal for an international cybercrime convention, a move, he said, that had been backed by regional meetings on the issue ahead of the Brazil Congress.
Other contributors to the debate said that more action needed to be taken on a national level before international co-ordination could be considered. Poland's representative said that national law enforcement agencies often fell behind in advanced techniques and needed more help.
South Africa, Angola and Botswana called for UN aid to help countries to improve their national cybercrime efforts.
Various UN groups are already working on cybercrime policy. "The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force has established the Working Group on Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes," said the Congress's agenda. "The objectives of the Working Group are to identify and bring together stakeholders and partners with a view to sharing information, as well as to identify possible ways to counter the threat at the national, regional and global levels and to examine what role the United Nations might play in coordinating action by Member States."
"In 2009, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice organized a thematic discussion on economic fraud and identity related crime," it said. "The purpose of the thematic discussion was to tap the expertise of various stakeholders from different fields, take stock of existing good practices and accumulate knowledge and experience, as well as identify gaps and develop an accurate and complete picture of the problem of identity-related crime and fraudulent practices linked to it."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Congress to be bold in finding ways to stop cybercrime.
"I urge you to be more innovative,” he said. “When it comes to emerging threats such as cyber-crime, environmental crime and counterfeiting, we must stay one step ahead of the criminals. We must also be more effective in stopping the money flows enabled by corruption and money-laundering.”