By Adam King - Security Consultant at PGI Cyber
As the authorities are getting better at catching criminals dealing illegal products such as drugs, guns and fake identities, the criminals have had to get very creative in the ways they conduct their business. Enter the dark web…
The primary purpose of the dark web is to provide users with anonymity. Charities supporting child abuse victims use this network in order to protect the identity of those they are trying to save, journalists use it to communicate anonymously with their sources in order to stay out of danger when discussing sensitive topics, and even Facebook has a website on the Tor network to provide those living in countries with heavy censorship a means for education and social encounters. There are a lot of legitimate reasons why someone may use the dark web, therefore even if there were a way to just “shut it down”, this might not be a good idea.
Unfortunately, however, the power of complete anonymity acts as a magnet for the corrupted strands of society. Black markets such as Silk Road and Abraxas sell a wide range of illegal products. All of these products are sold with shipping costs, estimated delivery dates, seller ratings, feedback, images and refunds for substandard goods. Payment is taken through crypto-payment platforms and expertly laundered to prevent paper trails. Items are cleverly concealed within ornaments, clothing and branded packaging to prevent detection. The entire process, start to end, is professional, creative in its methods of deception and almost impossible to trace.
So let’s address the proverbial elephant in the room; why on earth do untraceable, untrustworthy criminals actually deliver products to the punters who willingly hand over their hard earned cash? The answer is, of course, reputation. Just like legitimate online markets, competition is high, customers lack loyalty and sellers can only demonstrate their authenticity through ratings and feedback. Those sellers with slow delivery and poor quality goods who refuse to issue refunds ruin their reputation, causing them to lose customers and revenue.
For anyone who has seen The Godfather, the revelation that criminals operate as a business is by no means surprising. In this case, however, the fact that individuals are able to create a business on a platform that offers absolute anonymity, constantly at risk of being captured by authorities, in close competition with thousands of other businesses may be considered a fantastic achievement.
The innovation, creativity and problem solving skills demonstrated by these people are, regardless of their ethics, impressive. It is my opinion that lessons can be learned from such feats, as we are reliant on KPIs, share values and graphs to dictate the future of the business rather than focusing on the generation of new ideas and technologies to drive the business, defeating limitations with innovative solutions and creating open relationships with potential consumers that fully expose the quality and service that the business has to offer.
Criminals are always one step ahead, and this is because they absolutely have to be in order to survive in, what is to them, a hostile environment. The skills and capability developed as a result of this is astonishing, and our culture is all too willing to prosecute this, as opposed to nurturing the underlying talent that has the potential to be the next generation of entrepreneurs.
The PGI Cyber Academy offers a course in Advanced Threat Methodology (ATM) which teaches security professionals in how to get inside the mind-set of these criminals. To gain a better understanding of the dark web and those who utilise it for malicious purposes, sign up for the Cyber Security Awareness? course offered by PGI.