How Crawling the Dark Web Can Help Curb Crime
You might think that you have full access to the internet, but the truth is your access is limited to the tip of an iceberg that the web really is. Search engines like google can only access the surface web, which makes up to about .03 percent of the whole web. The rest is called dark web aka deep web and is a mysterious place. Nobody really knows exactly how big it is, but is estimated to be about 500 to 6000 times larger than the surface web. Curious about taking a look at the deep web? You can’t, with your regular browser. You will require a special browser to enter deep web, and there, you are completely anonymous.
This secret world is also infamous for being the breeding ground of cyber and real world crimes. The main reason is obviously the anonymity that it provides. Illegal activities like drug trade, counterfeit currency dealings, weapons and ammunition trade, forgery and even hitmen services lurk behind the shadows of this anonymity.
How it works
The dark is web is basically the shadiest corners of the web where search engines don’t go. People interact there without the watchful eyes of government authorities. These sites are typically encrypted with mechanisms like Tor that lets users visit them while staying anonymous. For the same reason, it is being used by criminals to carry out illegal activities without getting tracked in any way.
Tor works like an onion, hence the onion logo of the Tor browser. This means, when you go behind an IP address that accessed a particular website, you will simply find more layers of IP addresses. The real IP address of the user cannot be traced back, just like you wouldn’t find anything if you keep peeling off onion skins. Many websites, especially the ones into illegal things can only be accessed via the Tor browser. The transactions in the dark web are done via bitcoin, which makes it almost impossible to track like the regular credit card transactions.
Types of Crime On The Dark Web
There is a wide variety of crimes being carried out with the help of dark web. Here are some examples:
Dark web is the breeding ground of methods and processes for stealing credit card data and personal information. Criminals first break into merchant sites or payment gateways to steal the card data and then sell it off to other scammers who run card forums and market sites. Batches of card details are finally laundered for cash via this process. Sales of new computer exploits is also among the biggest threats in the dark web. Once the exploit has been sold to more hackers, the scale of the attack becomes large.
Real world crimes
Many real-world crimes have been associated with dark web for a long time now. Silk Road was one of the first darknets that hosted the sales of illegal drugs until 2013 when it was shut down by the FBI. Many darknets have sprung up to take the place of silk road after that. It’s likely that any illegal drug that you can name would be available to buy on some darknet in the deep web. Drug mafias use courier systems to transport these drugs to the clients stealthily which makes it a hard menace to control.
Sales of weapons have seen rise and fall on the deep web. For instance, there have been many high-profile arrests in the UK that has made the cyber criminals see arms trafficking as a high-risk business. Many sites on the dark web still sell rocket launchers, tanks, firearms and other highly dangerous explosives. Apart from this, hitmen are available to hire, human organs are being trafficked and even terrorist attacks are being planned on some of the deep web sites out there.
Web crawling to curb the dark web crimes
Web crawling technologies are increasing in popularity among the business users for its incredible power to provide competitive intelligence and fuel extensive web research. We believe that the crawling technologies can be applied to darknets on the deep web in order to curb this growing menace of crime through web. Here are some ways crawling can help.
Detecting potentially illegal content
Not all of deep web or even the .onion sites are into crimes or anything illegal in nature. Given the huge size of the deep web, it won’t be feasible for the authorities to manually visit each site and evaluate its content for a potentially illegal nature. This is where crawling comes in. Web crawling can be used to crawl and index millions of such sites in short notice and can even be programmed to report when certain keywords are detected. These keywords could be anything to watch out for say, names of guns, drugs – a set of words that’s associated with illegal activities on the deep web. This makes finding things on the darknets easier and now the only job left is to track the criminals behind these illegal activities. To begin with, this is quite a challenging task given how everything is anonymous on the dark web. It’s not impossible though, that’s how FBI caught Ross Ulbricht, the founder of silk road- one of the first criminal marketplaces on the dark web.
Tracing down the bitcoin
All the hype apart, Bitcoin is not as anonymous as it may seem to be. It’s basically electronic cash and like all things digital, it does leave trails behind. Though bitcoin is never associated with personal details of the holders, every bitcoin transaction is recorded in a public log with their wallet IDs. This means, bitcoin is only safe as long as you are super careful with it. One bad move and the user could be booked with all the necessary evidence. By connecting the dots between individual transactions using machine learning, we could even expect better tracking mechanisms to identify bitcoin holders in the near future. With web crawling technologies, the bitcoin logs can be continuously monitored for cues that can lead to a connection.
Identifying Zero day attacks
Dark web is where all the new vulnerabilities in computer systems get released first, in the form of exploits and malware. In February 2015, Microsoft identified a serious vulnerability in the windows operating system. Although they immediately released a fix, the details of the vulnerability spread through the dark web like wildfire. Hackers are actively looking for vulnerabilities like this to turn into an exploit and sell it off on the dark web.
This is why Eric Nunes and pals at the Arizona State University came up with a hybrid of web crawling and machine learning technologies that can crawl the hacking forums on the dark web for early detection of security vulnerabilities. This can effectively help in fixing them at the earliest to prevent huge cyber-attacks.
Prevention of real world crimes
Real world crimes are planned, assigned and paid for on the dark web. This includes terrorist forums and darknets where people are offered incentives to take part in attacks and are recruited directly. In fact, this is a challenging task to accomplish as anonymous communication happens on the dark web. But, the likes of terrorist attacks could be predicted by mining data and using predictive modelling techniques on forums where discussions of that nature happen. By using web crawling to monitor the darknet sites, it is possible to get hints about such attacks and take preventive measures.
Technology is neither good nor bad, it is the users who make it act in either directions. While being used for illegal activities mostly, the technologies that work behind it aren’t inherently good or bad. As the number of crimes using technology is on the rise, nothing but technology can be used to put an end to it. Since machine learning technologies are improving by each passing day, we can soon expect a combination of web data mining and machine learning to help curb the menace of dark web crimes.