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FBI Releases Darknet Marketplace Primer

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The FBI released on November 1 a primer on darknet marketplaces, just one week after the Bureau wrapped up, along with other U.S. law enforcement, Operation Hyperion. The Operation intended to disrupt darknet marketplaces on the international level.

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According to the FBI, the operation started with the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Group (FELEG), an international coalition of law enforcement agencies based in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They collaborate on intelligence operations to combat transnational crime.

One working group within FELEG, the Cyber Crime Working Group, targets “sophisticated perpetrators operating key criminal services in the cyber underground marketplace.”

FBI agents made contact with more than 150 Darknet marketplace-related individuals in the U.S. who they suspected purchased illicit goods on the darknet.

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“Some of these individuals confessed to ordering a range of illegal drugs and controlled substances online, including heroin, cocaine, morphine, and ketamine.”

The FBI released its Primer to help readers understand the Darknet. The Primer details how the Clear Web works, which is what the general public is used to browsing.

“But there is a vast amount of web content out there on the Internet, and much of it is not indexed by traditional search engines—that part of the web is known as the Deep Web,” the Bureau writes. “Its content is still available to the general public, but it’s harder to find unless you have the exact URL. Examples of Deep Web content are websites and forums that require log-ins, websites that don’t allow for indexing or aren’t linked to anything, and databases.” The Bureau then describes the Darknet.

“DarkNet content is not indexed and consists of overlaying networks that use the public Internet but require unique software, configuration, or authorization to access,” the FBI writes. “And this access is predominately designed to hide the identity of the user.”

The Bureau says there is some criminal activity on the Clear Web and Deep Web. “…[T]here are some legitimate uses—and users—of the DarkNet. But because of the anonymity it offers, many criminals and criminal groups gravitate toward the DarkNet, often doing business through online marketplaces set up for nefarious purposes.” The FBI then lists products often found on Darknet marketplaces.

“Typically, products and services involve child sexual exploitation; drugs; guns; chemical, biological, and radiological materials and knowledge; stolen goods; counterfeit goods; and computer hacking tools,” the web post notes. “Payment for these goods and services is usually through virtual currency like bitcoin, also designed to be anonymous.”

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The Bureau also goes over how on illicit DarkNet marketplaces buyers provide feedback on products and services in a manner similar to eBay, including internal messaging systems, website forums and so on.

“The difference, of course, is that the feedback, internal messaging, and forums on DarkNet marketplaces focus on topics like the quality of child pornography images, the potency of a particular poison, or the speed at which a cache of guns is mailed to its buyer,” the FBI warns.

The FBI focuses its investigations “not on individual criminals but on the most egregious criminal organization and activities.” The FBI admits difficult accessing Darknet marketplaces due to “their very nature. They say it’s not impossible.

“The Bureau, with its partners, uses all available investigative techniques to target buyers, sellers, marketplace administrators, and the technical infrastructure of the marketplaces themselves. And we have had success doing it.”

There are examples thereof. In November 2014, U.S. law enforcement filed charges against more than 400 hidden service Darknet addresses, such as dozens of illicit marketplace websites on the Onion Router or Tor.

Silk Road 2.0 website operator was arrested and chargedSuch actions are “vital” for the FBI’s actions.

“They allow us to dismantle illicit websites and go after those responsible for them,” the Bureau wrote.  But they also enable us to develop actionable intelligence on other websites, criminals, and criminal organizations. And the knowledge we gain from these investigations helps us create more sophisticated investigative tools to shine a brighter light into criminal activity on the DarkNet.”

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Silkroad-Like Drug Market AlphaBay Starts Accepting Ethereum

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AlphaBay, one of the more popular silkroad-like drug market operating on the darknet has begun processing eth deposits and withdrawals for purchases. An AlphaBay representative publicly stated:

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“We are happy to announce that Ethereum transactions are now live on Alphabay! You can now purchase your drugs using Ethereum. The minimum deposit and withdrawal amount is 0.1 ETH…

Additionally, we have designed a mixer that will allow you to mix your Ethereum in order to hide the origin of the coins. The mixing is done automatically so simply depositing and withdrawing your coins will mix them. However, for a better obfuscation, you should use a second service as well. The mixer can only work as well as the number of users making use of it.”

The ethereum community wasn’t too happy about the news, but no one asked them, just as AlphaBay did not ask Apple if they can use their iPhones or Microsoft if they can use their laptops or BMW if they can use their cars. Like everyone else, they want the latest and best cool tech too, boasting in their announcement that a transaction would complete in minutes.

The Cost of Controversial Forks

But ethereum is somewhat transparent and isn’t too kind to dogmatic ideologies such as immutability at all costs which might slightly benefit these sort of markets. So a month ago someone wondered what if eth just censored AlphaBay’s transactions. A representative said:

“If we are aware of any Alphabay transaction being reversed or tampered with, we’ll instantly drop the support. We studied the RPC call documentation and will use a different account for every user.”

Ethereum, of course, can’t just reverse a transaction. There would need to be a whole fierce debate first which would turn the whole community into a metaphorical state of civil war, then a vote, then miners have to agree, then there might be a coin-split, price would probably dive, and so on.

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Even if 80% of eth’s community was of the view that such transactions should be reversed (which is very unlikely), it is doubtful that more than 5% of them would think they should actually do so and go through two or three months of near hell.

The proposition, therefore, is laughable. Sufficiently so to give AlphaBay the confidence to accept eth, but why are they doing so? Why not just keep on with bitcoin?

A Professional Illegal Business?

There are probably a number of reasons, but first let me point out something I find interesting on a prima facie. The announcement has no typos. It reads very well grammatically. Some words are fairly sophisticated. They clearly have, perhaps capable, coding abilities.

That suggests whoever or whatever team is operating this market has above average intelligence, which reminds me of something a blockchain detective said during autumn 2016 at the London Blockchain Money Conference about AlphaBay. As I wrote back then:

“They are pretty well run, he says. They have job postings, press releases, for what they do, and “we study them every day,” Smith says, “we think it’s a pretty well run business.””

That means they probably keep up with developments in the digital currencies space and have probably noticed that bitcoin has considerably degraded recently with transfers sometime taking hours or days while fees just keep going up and up, now standing around $1.

They probably therefore began looking for alternatives to provide a more convenient experience for their customers, beginning with monero which they added in late 2016 due to its anonymity claims.

The problem is no one uses monero, with the currency barely handling 4,000 transactions a day, probably because bitcoin and eth, although can be trackable with some effort in default use, can be made far more private by using mixers, currency shuffling, and whatever other trick they can think of, thus serving the AlphaBay users sufficiently for their needs.

As such, since the addition of monero probably didn’t lower complaint volumes for transaction delays, they may have thought to try eth, which has far more volume, currently standing at around 100,000 transactions a day.

Trendy Ethereum?

In short, they’re probably following a wider trend in this space, especially for companies which rely on payments. Many of them have moved to eth or hedged with the currency, many bitcoiners have too, because transactions there just work. Value is transferred from a to b in seconds for as good as no fee.

Now, AlphaBay is an illegal business and they do facilitate the selling of drugs like heroin which are terrible, but, illegal or otherwise they are still a business in a competitive environment. As such, like legitimate businesses, they probably do want the best cool tech too and right now that is very much ethereum.

More cynically, it could just be a pump attempt, but that would probably be ancillary as the coins they’ve added appear to be more focused on providing a better service. It is doubtful, for example, they would have bothered to look for an alternative if bitcoin just kept operating as it did in 2014, not least because many would have seen it as silly.

As for its potential effects on price, increased utility, even of a kind ethereans may not like, necessarily increases value, but it’s not clear how many of AlphaBay users are fond of eth, or how many of them would use it.

Logically, you’d think they’d probably follow the same trend as everyone else. Their specific effect on price, therefore, might not be noticeable because they’re being way overshadowed by far bigger news such as Germany’s energy giant rolling out hundreds of eth based charging stations.

Nonetheless, it is the latest sign which may indicate eth is superseding bitcoin or at least becoming a serious alternative. That means bitcoin may now be at a critical stage while ethereum is seemingly beaming with confidence.

If this continues, then we may not need to wait too long to see how it all develops.

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This Tool Lets you Scan the Dark Web for your (Stolen) Personal Data

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A recently revealed a dark web scanning service was launched in the UK. The service is called OwlDetect and is available for £3,5 a month. It allows users to scan the dark web in search for their own leaked information. This includes email addresses, credit card information and bank details.

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The service reportedly uses online programs and a team of trained experts to scan hundreds of thousands of dark web websites in order to look for their customers’ data. If any personal data is found, the company helps its users act in order to keep themselves safe. It was launched in an attempt to remove reliance on big companies, as users usually only know they were hacked after these companies make it public.

In a few cases, however, the information is revealed a long time after users are hacked. Earlier this year, Yahoo confirmed that, at least 500 million user accounts were compromised by what they believed to be a “state-sponsored actor”. The breach reportedly occurred in 2014, so it took users two years to know they were hacked.

Chairman of the National Cyber Management Centre, and member of OwlDetect’s advisory team, Professor Richard Benham said:

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Today the risk of having your personal information compromised is greater than ever. From messaging apps to online shopping and dating websites, we trust a huge number of companies with our details, and there are endless opportunities for those details to fall into the wrong hands.

Crawling the Deep Web

The deep web is, as we all know, beyond the reach of regular search engines. That may be about to change in the future, as more and more tools keep on claiming to be able to crawl it in search for specific information.

According to their website, this new service has a database of stolen data. This database was created over the past 10 years, presumably with the help of their software and team. A real deep web search engine does exist, however.

A few days ago, Hacked.com reported how the Department of Defense’s deep web search engine was to be enhanced by a recent acquisition. This search engine, named Memex, is reportedly able to crawl 90 to 95% of the deep web, presenting its search results in sophisticated infographics.

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The Department of Defense Is about to Enhance Its Deep Web Search Engine

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A lot of people have never heard of Memex. Memex is a deep web search engine developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the agency that created the ARPANET, which served as a basis of the internet we use nowadays.

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Memex is a deep web search engine that doesn’t quite work like Google or Bing. DARPA sees Memex as a set of search tools intended for government use, unlike commercial search engines as the ones mentioned above. This deep web search engine powers domain-specific searches that then show sophisticated infographics as results. According to Tech Times, this new search engine can crawl 90 to 95% of the deep web.

The current goal is to battle human trafficking and slavery-related content. In the future, it’ll also be useful to take down drug traffickers, terrorists, and pedophiles. Per the International Labor Organization, almost 21 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide, leading to a private economy of $150 billion in profits a year.

Memex was already successfully used in the past. In 2014, a sex trafficker named Benjamin Gaston was sentenced to 50 years in prison after he was found guilty of several crimes. Among them were sex trafficking, kidnapping, sex abuse and rape.

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The deep web search engine is about to grow stronger

According to Venture Beat, the security and intelligence company IST Research has acquired Rescue Forensics. IST Research has worked with DARPA for years now, and the acquisition is going to help their efforts grow in effectiveness.

Rescue Forensics was acquired for an undisclosed amount, but is known their technology is to be used to improve the Department of Defense’s deep web search engine, Memex. It will be used alongside IST’s Pulse Platform.

Rescue Forensics works with the use of big data, analytics and computer forensics, in order to give law enforcement agencies intelligence they can act upon. They work with over 450 agencies throughout the world.

IST’s Pulse Platform is partly funded by the Department of Defense, and works by looking at phone addresses and emails as well as commonalities such as spacing, used in ads on the deep web and aggregation sites.

According to IST’s founder Ryan Paterson, so far the Pulse Platform has been focusing on extracting information from parts of the world where both security and accessibility aren’t great:

We’re interested in child soldiers, we’re doing work in central Africa right now with the Lord’s Resistance Army, fighting the LRA there, that Kony mission, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, what’s happening in Mosul, in Aleppo

Memex is currently crawling the deep web in search for a specific group of criminals, alongside other solutions such as TraffickCam and The Polaris Project. As the previously mentioned report from Sophos mentions, however, if it keeps on being successful, we might need to rename what is currently the deep web.

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