Interpol Trains Law Enforcement to Navigate the ‘Dark Net’

Dark Net

INTERPOL’s recent Dark Net training session in Singapore provides an interesting glimpse of just how widespread cyber crime has become, and how resourceful the new generation of criminals and terrorists are.

“The main focus of training program was identifying the methods and strategies used by organized crime networks and individuals to avoid detection on the Darknet,” reports the Security Zap website. “As part of the training, INTERPOL’s Cyber Research Lab created its own private Darknet network, private cryptocurrency and simulated marketplace, recreating the virtual ‘underground’ environment used by criminals to avoid detection.”

“During the five-day course, officers from around the world got to play with a virtual online drug marketplace, acting as buyers, sellers and admins to get a better understanding of how Tor and Bitcoin, two fundamentals of illegal online marketplaces, actually function,” adds Gizmodo. “They also got to practice seizing and taking down websites, a popular option for law enforcement trying to shut down online drug trades.”

When hardcore computer enthusiasts and boastful hackers began talking about the “Dark Net” or “Deep Web,” it sounded to casual observers like something of a joke — nerds bragging about their ability to create untraceable websites invisible to both search engines and law enforcement, creating shadowy digital palaces that could only be reached by invited guests. The Dark Net has been embraced by everyone from privacy-minded, law-abiding Internet users to criminal and terrorist organizations.

As the setup for the INTERPOL training seminar illustrates, it is not really all that difficult to carve out a bit of Deep Web real estate. Once some basic steps are taken to hide websites from search engines and encrypt communications with readily available software, most of the work is done. A website that cannot be found without knowing its exact location on the vast Internet is well-hidden. It will be increasingly odd to hear of an illicit operation that is not using Darknet techniques.

As INTERPOL’s Director of Cyber Innovation and Outreach Madan Oberoi put it, in a statement quoted by Security Zap:

Darknets are fast emerging as the preferred trading venue for organized crime networks and individuals to carry out illicit activities, with crypto currencies the preferred medium for paying for these criminal services. The specialized training provided by INTERPOL equips law enforcement with the understanding and tools they need to take very real action targeting criminals in the virtual world.

The galvanizing event for INTERPOL’s focus on the Darknet was the trial of “Silk Road” founder Ross Ulbricht – an investigation which Gizmodo observes could have gone better, using some colorful language. However, it is also noted that “The Silk Road was about five times smaller than prosecutors first alleged, with total sales of $200 million, rather than the billion dollars initially quoted.”

Another big news item from the world of cyber crime was the U.S. Justice Department’s takedown of a secret forum known as “Darkode,” a meeting ground for some of the world’s most notorious hackers. In July, the FBI announced the successful culmination of an 18-month operation against Darkode in July, citing cooperation from law-enforcement agencies in 20 different countries.

However, as Business Insider observes, only a small portion of the total Darkode user base was identified and arrested, and while the loss of this particular highly-secure forum will sting a bit, elite hackers have an estimated eight hundred similar sites floating in the Darknet they can use for planning attacks and distributing malware tools. It is debatable whether high-profile international law enforcement efforts against Darknet marketplaces has damaged the underground economy to any significant degree, as every neutralized website is quickly replaced. Even Darkode itself had been effectively replaced with a new site by the end of July.

Law enforcement in wild frontiers has always been challenging. The unmapped expanses of the Deep Web are thousands of times larger than any frontier previously assayed by lawmen, and the techniques necessary to police it will inevitably run into friction from civil-liberties advocates, whose complaints about surveillance and excessive regulation are not unfounded.


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