Efforts For Combating Crime On The Dark Web

Written by: Nearchos Nearchou



Time to read 8 min

Some people claim that the Dark Web supports fundamental rights including free speech, privacy, and anonymity. On the other hand, governmental organizations and prosecutors worry that it is a sanctuary for severe illicit activity. Policing this part of the internet entails focusing on particular web behaviours that are regarded as illicit or subject to internet censorship. Police normally utilize the suspect’s Internet Protocol (IP) address when looking into Internet suspects, but since Dark web technologies create anonymity, this becomes extremely difficult.

As a result, law enforcement has used a variety of alternative strategies to track down and detain those using the Dark Web for illicit purposes. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a method of data gathering and is used to legally collect data from public sources. Officers can use Dark Web-specific OSINT technologies to locate bits of knowledge that will help them learn more about interactions occurring on the Dark Web.

This article will cover the following topics:

• Law enforcement techniques

• Tools for combating crime on the Dark Web

• Recommendations

• General needs and challenges

Law enforcement techniques

It was revealed in 2015 that Interpol provides a special Dark Web training course with technical details on TOR, cybersecurity, and practice darknet market takedowns. The UK’s National Crime Agency and GCHQ announced the establishment of a joint operations cell to concentrate on cybercrime in October 2013. This squad was given the responsibility of combating child exploitation on the Dark Web as well as other cybercrimes in November 2015.

Researchers, law enforcement, and policymakers are becoming increasingly interested in the Dark Web since it is characterized by the unknown, according to a comprehensive analysis of it published by the Congressional Research Service in March 2017. Reports in August 2017 claimed that where possible and required, cybersecurity companies that monitor and study the Dark Web on behalf of banks and retailers often communicate their findings to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies on illicit content.

The anonymity associated with Dark Web activities makes it difficult for investigators to assemble the evidence puzzle and prosecute criminals. Also, investigators often overlook significant evidence. This evidence may include encryption keys, Dark Web addresses, or cryptocurrency wallets. Lack of knowledge about the Dark Web and how criminals take advantage of it is a crucial problem and can,in some cases, slow down investigation processes.

Data about the effectiveness of investigating Dark Web crime cases shows that this kind of crime is still a new and developing concept for jurisdictions and institutions. Before the advent of advanced processing software, crime investigations were limited to leads related to reports, events, and tangential evidence connected to other crimes. Traditional police work could not adequately identify the diverse networks of a larger crime gang that had operations spanning numerous cities or countries.

With the introduction of new sophisticated tools, law enforcement can generate tactical intelligence from large data, as well as efficiently document the operations of a crime gang. Part of this article will focus on answering the following two questions:

• What kinds of methods or tactics should the police be prohibited from using when fighting crime on the Dark Web?

• What considerations should guide police actions regarding using methods that may not be prohibited but are nevertheless seriously harmful?

Furthermore, this article discusses how law enforcement agencies should approach both the task of weighing the harms and benefits of operations on the Dark Web and that of explaining and justifying these kinds of operations to the public. Additionally, law enforcement agents, cybersecurity consultants, academic researchers, and civil rights advocates agree that research on improving information sharing is likely to have the greatest impact on fighting crime on the Dark Web.

Moreover, law enforcement should consider the following measures (if possible):

1. Multi-sector collaboration between various law enforcement and private sector agencies across the world.

2. Propose stricter laws to regulate the Dark Web.

3. Implement harsher punishments for criminals operating on the Dark Web.

These measures could potentially create a situation where operating on the Dark Web is of high risk(for criminals). As a result, criminals would be incentivized to operate more on the Surface Web or other places, where they are more easily identifiable. This kind of approach makes crimes easier to investigate and prosecute, as it disrupts criminals’ organized networks and deters them from hiding on the Dark Web. The following sections show some techniques and methods law enforcement uses to detect and capture criminals on the Dark Web.

Sting operations

The Dark Web’s anonymity allows police agents to conduct surveillance leaving almost no traces. Law enforcement agencies engage in a variety of online policing strategies to fight crime, though some of these strategies present a series of inadequacies and ethical dilemmas. By creating pseudo-personas, police agents access illicit Dark Web sites pretending to be fellow offenders or victims to lure potential offenders into committing a crime. This kind of surveillance is also known as a sting operation and is frequently used to fight the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Online sting operations resemble traditional sting operations. By definition, sting operations consist of four components:

• An enticement or opportunity to commit a crime, either created or exploited by law enforcement

• A targeted likely offender, or a group of offenders for a particular type of crime

• An undercover police officer, or some form of deception

• A gotcha climax when the forensic operation ends with arrests

Regarding the aforementioned, law enforcement agencies should create supplementary (detailed) guidance for authorized and covert police officers conducting operations aiming at disrupting crime on the Dark Web. This practice can ensure that the operations are carried out in ways that are necessary and proportionate. Additionally, the effectiveness of tactics used by the police should be monitored systematically to create the kind of evidence base on which better practices could be developed. Law enforcement agencies should be as transparent as possible concerning the outcomes of operations and how these constitute effectiveness. Also, efforts should be made to develop evaluation techniques that will be able to measure the currently undervalued disruption effects of methods and operations. Although covert operations are an important tool for law enforcement, criminals’ understanding of these operations may preclude them from providing a long-term solution to the issue of crime on the Dark Web.

Honeypot traps

A few directions could assist in better understanding and addressing crime on the Dark Web. Arguably the most straightforward involves an increased amount of attention being placed on websites that promote crime—for instance, understanding whether shutting down sites with a large footprint in online trafficking effectively combats this kind of crime or simply shifts it to other locations.

Research suggests that shutting down such websites does not consider how the visibility of sex trafficking has encouraged collaborative efforts between governments and other organizations. Suppose law enforcement allows sex trafficking sites to stay active for more extended periods. In this case, it is possible that the police can better assist trafficked victims and identify patterns of how these criminal gangs operate.

An example of how keeping trafficking sites active can better assist investigations is the use of honeypot traps. A honeypot trap is a cybersecurity method aimed, among other strategies, at deceiving cybercriminals. These traps are sites that purport to be related to illegal activity but, in fact, are set up by police to identify and capture potential offenders. An instance of a honeypot trap is Operation Pacifier. This operation involved the FBI hacking the paedophile site Playpen (in 2015) and continuing to serve content. 2 weeks after hacking the Playpen website, FBI agents used their position to pull off aggressive surveillance on the website users. During that time, the FBI used a malware-based technique to hack into the users’ browsers, uncovering IP addresses and other relevant information. The operation produced the following results:

The Playpen operation represents one of the FBI’s most successful efforts in combating crime on the Dark Web. This operation has opened new avenues for international cooperation in prosecuting criminals. However, there are some serious issues regarding the methods used by the FBI. Although the idea of using honeypot traps to stop traffickers from acting on the Dark Web is intriguing, there are significant ethical issues with such strategies. The fact that many people view honeypot traps as a type of entrapment and a breach of civil liberties is a major cause for concern. Those involved in the techniques claimed that the purpose of the traps is to lessen the sense of freedom and anonymity and to instil doubt in offenders’ minds.

Furthermore, law enforcement must continue to cooperate with payment companies to limit access to Dark Web child sexual exploitation material, especially live streaming child abuse. The establishment of the European Financial Coalition (EFC) against commercial sexual exploitation of children online is one example of such an attempt. This group brings together significant players from the commercial sector, law enforcement, and civil society to fight child sex trafficking on the Dark Web. To take advantage of the payment methods that are being used in illegitimate online transactions, members of the EFC must work together. Additionally, tackling Dark Web sex trafficking requires cooperation between governments, local communities, academia, and ex-trafficked victims. Also, support to individuals with a sexual interest in children can help to reduce the severity of the problem. A good initiative in this regard is the helplinks.eu website which provides several links for help and prevention in various countries worldwide:

For those who are aware that their sexual interest in minors is unhealthy and want to take action,helplinks.eu is a free information source. Links are gathered by the police in the nations where the services are located, but there is no relationship between the services and law enforcement, and they do not communicate with or share information with the police. It may be possible to stop child abuse and/or the ownership or dissemination of photographs that depict such abuse by seeking therapy for a sexual interest in children.

Nearchos Nearchou

Nearchos Nearchou is a determined person and 1st Class BSc (Hons) Computer Science and MSc Cyber Security graduate. He is a big tech-lover and spent several years exploring new innovations in the IT field. Driven by his passion for learning, he is pursuing a career in the Cyber Security world. Passionate about learning new skills and information that can be used for further personal and career development. Finally, he is the author of the book   “Combating Crime On The Dark Web”.

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