Darknet Market Raises Its Ugly Head Again

by Priyanka Pugaokar    Jul 18, 2016

Cyber Mafias The internet has always been the most preferred platform for carrying out illicit activities. The underground black markets are not a new phenomenon in the virtual world. However, these black markets are now becoming more sophisticated and organized. Darkness is one such underground marketplaces which are rising and becoming uglier. Though law enforcement agencies have brought down the number of such illegal platforms, the Darknet markets are up and running. Darknet markets are growing bigger than ever with over $50 million UDS transactions reportedly flowing through these marketplaces and it is a big challenge in front of security agencies and governments to finish this underground industry from its roots.

Decoding Darknet 

As the name suggests, the Darknet market, also known as Cryoto market is a commercial website on the dark web that operates via darkness such as Tor and I2P. These markets primarily indulged in illicit activities such as drug peddling, trade of cyber-arms and weapons, counterfeited currencies, stolen credit card details, forged documents and other illicit goods. Though Darknet started gaining popularity from 2006 onwards, the traces of underground market lie in the early 70s when students at Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology created, dubbed as the first Darknet marketplace, ‘ARPANET’ to purchase cannabis. Since then, many such dark markets have mushroomed such as Cyber-arms Bazaar, ShadowCrew, the Farmer’s Market, Silk Market 2.0, Agora, AlphaBay etc. 

Darknet for trading of illicit wares viz. hacked servers, botnet based services, exploit kits are on the rise. In the past few years, the area of expertise in imparting technical knowledge to conduct online criminal activities is being consolidated and services are being channeled through these emerging marketplaces. Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report Vol. 21 highlighted that cybercriminals are more professional and are much bolder, not only in the targets they go after, but also the sums of money they seek.

“At the other end of the Dark market, a drive-by download web toolkit, which includes updates and 24×7 support, can be rented for between US$100 and US$700 per week, while distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks can be ordered from US$10 to US$1,000 per day. And at the top of the market, a zero-day vulnerability can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. SHARE Moreover, these figures have changed very little since 2014”, said Atul Anchan, Director Systems Engineering, India, Symantec.

A June 2016 report from the Global Drug Survey described how these markets are mushrooming, despite ongoing massive cracking operations. This highly encrypted E platform ensures no traces of digital footprints for investigative agencies. All payments are made through bitcoins. “We have often described how online mafias are highly organized regarding strategic and operational vision, logistics and deployment. Black market organizations operate like companies, with experts specialized in each area and position. These organizations have a hierarchical structure whereby every action is performed by specialists”, said Govind Rammurthi, CEO & MD at eScan.

Also Read: xDedic: The Black Market Of Hacked Servers Decoded

Legal RoadBlocks 

With cyber criminals finding new ways to ditch Law Enforcement agencies, new Darknet market places continue to thrive. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the self-regulation of online markets provides a safer environment for operators. The next generation Darknet markets are likely to be decentralized, peer-to-peer networks, making them even more difficult for police to seize. Every country has different laws to handle cybercrimes. Significantly, the majority of crimes is executed from outside the jurisdiction of the victim’s country. Cyber-criminals take an advantage of the fact that Law-Enforcement agencies are bound by the Law and Jurisdiction. “Difficulties specific to exposing the underground crime world are both technical and operational. The ability of Darknet technology to obscure the identity of participants makes it hard to know who is carrying out the illegal transactions. In turn, that makes it difficult to bring about charges likely to lead to successful prosecutions against those involved”, said Nick FitzGerald, Senior Research fellow, Eset.

Cyber security experts and vendors have voiced for collaboration among countries to curb underground cyber criminals. “As long as the world is divided over jurisdiction of the crime and the criminal, cyber criminals are going to lead a worry-free life. Private business and governments must collaborate to monitor criminal activities, detecting them as soon as possible via the monitoring of the internet, especially on underground forums” said Rammurthi.

Massive Crackdown

The rising awareness about cyber-crimes and massive crack down operations of international security agencies and Law Enforcement agencies have succeeded in giving major jolts to the underground networks. Ross Ulbricht, founder of Silk Road was convicted and is currently serving a life sentence. Similarly, David Trail, an admin of Topix2, was convicted and sentenced to a fee of 17,000 GBP and 200 hours of community service. Dutch Law enforcement agencies successfully shut down Utopia in 2014. In the same year in November, Operation Onymous executed by the FBI and UK’s National Crime Agency seized of 27 hidden sites, including Silk Road 2.0. 

In a bid to tackle the growing menace of cyber-crimes, the European Commission recently announced the launch of private-public partnership to aid development of cyber security tools and services. As part of its Digital Market strategy, the commission would invest euro 1.8 billion in cyber security research. Interpol recently hosted a training session on Darknet. Over 25 police officers from 14 countries participated in the training session. The UK’s National Crime Agency has formed a ‘Joint Operations Cell‘ to tackle child exploitation on the dark web and other cybercrime. Drug trafficking in India is also on a new high. According to media reports, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has interdicted two such syndicates operating in the country. 

Since the original Silk Road marketplace was cracked down 2013, many other such markets have mushroomed worldwide and growing bigger and stronger. However, where these markets continue to rise and become more critical to crack down, the Law Enforcement and security agencies worldwide have successfully stopped menace of underground crooks. With the growing number of high profile arrests and takedowns in 2015, law enforcement is now catching-up with them much more quickly. However, more collective and collaborative approach is needed to chase off these this ever growing underground industry. 

(Image Courtesy: geopolitics.co)