THINK TANK | Cybercrime in the Dark Web
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THINK TANK | Cybercrime in the Dark Web

 By Michael Chertoff and Tobby Simon 

THINK TANK | Cybercrime in the Dark Web

Image Attribute: Photo by TMAB2003 on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

Peter Grabosky (2001) notes that virtual crime is not any different than crime in the real world — it is just executed in a new medium: “‘Virtual criminality’ is basically the same as the terrestrial crime with which we are familiar. To be sure, some of the manifestations are new. But a great deal of crime committed with or against computers differs only in terms of the medium. While the technology of implementation, and particularly its efficiency, may be without precedent, the crime is fundamentally familiar. It is less a question of something completely different than a recognizable crime committed in a completely different way.”


Websites such as Silk Road act as anonymous marketplaces selling everything from tame items such as books and clothes, to more illicit goods such as drugs and weapons. Aesthetically, these sites appear like any number of shopping websites, with a short description of the goods, and an accompanying photograph (Bartlett 2014).


It is correct to assume that dedicated sites facilitate users to trade in both physical and proprietary information, including passwords and access to passwords for surface Web paid-pornography sites and PayPal passwords (Westin 2014). PayPal Store, Creditcards for All and (Yet) Another Porn Exchange are active websites that offer such services.


The Assassination Market website is a prediction market where a party can place a bet on the date of death of a given individual, and collect a payoff if the date is “guessed” accurately. This incentivizes the assassination of individuals because the assassin, knowing when the action will take place, could profit by making an accurate bet on the time of the subject’s death. Because the payoff is for knowing the date rather than performing the action of the assassination, it is substantially more difficult to assign criminal liability for the assassination (Greenberg 2013). There are also websites to hire an assassin — popular ones are White Wolves and C’thuthlu (Pocock 2014).


The dark Web and terrorists seem to complement each other — the latter need an anonymous network that is readily available yet generally inaccessible. It would be hard for terrorists to keep up a presence on the surface Web because of the ease with which their sites could be shut down and, more importantly, tracked back to the original poster. While the dark Web may lack the broad appeal that is available on the surface Web, the hidden ecosystem is conducive for propaganda, recruitment, financing and planning, which relates to our original understanding of the dark Web as an unregulated space.


More radical critics and hacktivists occupy part of the political dissidence space. The group Anonymous, commonly associated with Occupy Wall Street and other cyber activism, is one prominent hacktivist group (Jones 2011).


Exploits are malware based on software’s vulnerabilities — before they are patched. Zero-day exploits target zeroday vulnerabilities — those for which no official patch has been released by the vendor. “Zero-day” refers to the fact that the programmer has had zero days to fix the flaw. Exploit markets serve as platforms for buying and selling zero-day exploits, and an exploit’s price factors in how widely the target software is used as well as the difficulty of cracking it (Miller 2007).


Websites such as Banker & Co. and InstaCard facilitate untraceable financial transactions through various methods. They either launder bitcoins by disguising the true origin of the transactions or give users an anonymous debit card issued by a bank. Users are also given virtual credit cards issued by trusted operators in the dark Web (Dean 2014). Buying stolen credit card information has never been easier. A website called Atlantic Carding offers this service, and the more you pay, the more you get. Up for grabs are business credit card accounts and even infinite credit card accounts associated with ultra-high-net-worth individuals. The user’s details — name, address and so on — are available at an additional cost (Dahl 2014).


The main directory on the dark Web is the Hidden Wiki. It also promotes money laundering services, contract killing, cyber attacks and restricted chemicals, along with instructions to make explosives. As with other dark Web sites, the links to these sites frequently change to evade detection (Williams 2011).


The Human Experiment was a website that detailed medical experiments claimed to have been performed on homeless people who were usually unregistered citizens. According to the website, they were picked up off the street, experimented on and then usually died. The website has been inactive since 2011 (Falconer 2012).


There are many rob-to-order pages available in the dark Web, hosted by people who are good at stealing and will steal anything that you cannot afford or just do not want to pay for (Siddiqui 2014).


Euroarms is a website that sells all kinds of weapons that can be delivered to your doorstep anywhere in Europe. The ammunition for these weapons is sold separately — that website has to be tracked down separately on the dark Web (Love 2013).


Many popular bitcoin gambling sites block US IPs because they are afraid of prosecution from the United States, which has a tight hand on gambling in the United States. With the help of the dark Web, users of these sites can continue gambling by disguising their US IP (O’Neill 2013).


Pedophilia, or CP (for child pornography) as it is commonly referred to on the dark Web, is extremely accessible. Pornography is accepted on the surface Web with some regulation. The dark Web offers various types of sites and forums for those wishing to engage in pedophilia (Greenberg 2014).

About The Authors:

Michael Chertoff, chairman and co-founder of the Chertoff Group and senior of counsel, Covington & Burling LLP, was secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009. Previously, he was a US Court of Appeals judge and chief of the US Department of Justice Criminal Division. He is a magna cum laude graduate of both Harvard Law School and College. He is a commissioner with the Global Commission on Internet Governance.

Tobby Simon is president of The Synergia Foundation, an applied research think tank that works closely with academia, industry and polity to establish impactful solutions in the areas of geo-economics and geo-security. Tobby is a commissioner at the Global Commission for Internet Governance and an advisory board member of the Centre for New American Security. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, India.

Publication Details:

The excerpt is from the Global Commission on Internet Governance Series: Paper No. 6, originally published by the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Chatham House. Reprinted with permission.

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