How Cops Bust Cybercriminals on the Dark Web

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No matter how technologically savvy today’s cybercriminals are and think they’ve found a haven in the Dark Web, law enforcement agencies are surely getting better at tracking and bringing them down.

Police from different parts of the globe have managed to come up with not one, but several proven effective ways to bust criminals as they aim to get the situation under control.

Computer Hacker

manset4Hacking turns out to be among the most effective ways of identifying Dark Web users. In 2015, the authorities seized the large child pornographic website, Playpen.

They made use of agency deployed malware to harvest thousands of real IP addresses that potentially belonged to criminals.

Though not every lead results to a conviction, over 135 has been charged in the US to date.

Your TOR usage is being watched

Armed with an IP, cops simply need to subpoena the respective ISP or datacenter to acquire customer details, get a warrant, and do a raid.

Undercover Cop

Going undercover is now not all about disguising or growing beards and wearing eyeglasses, but involves getting deep into the internet and penetrating Dark Web organizations.

In the original Silk Road notorious drug platform, the authorities took over one staff member’s account.

The cops played their part so well such that they got right into the second iteration where Silk Road 2.0 unknowingly already had an investigator working on the inside.

The police became weapons seller, drug dealers, child abuse site administrator, and dealt directly with Dark Web marketplace owners as they took advantage of Tor’s protections to perfectly blend in.

Digital Breadcrumbs

Online anonymity remains a big challenge even for the most tech-geek computer-expert cybercriminals.

They are still human who can sometimes inevitably make mistakes, and the slightest digital footprint in forums or public documents and anywhere else in the Dark Web can unmask their identity.

Ross Ulbricht, the creator of the infamous Silk Road, apparently advertised on a bitcoin forum and posted his personally identifiable email address.

David Ryan Burchard, the alleged cannabis dealer, attempted to trademark his moniker “caliconnect” in his name.

Utilizing Seized Data

Seizure of a marketplace or a vendor’s arrest naturally turns over evidence and all related information to the hands of the law.

This can generate numerous new leads to follow with the previously existing connections and transactions that occurred in the Dark Web.

Huge German dark web vendor “Shiny Flakes” was busted with an astounding 320 kilos of various drugs kept in his drug empire.

Following the arrest was more search warrants as a tidy spreadsheet of orders has been discovered in the drug bust.

Another vendor who stored customer details ended up biting the criminal years later, with one recently fined by German police for having acquired small quantities from the Silk Road.

Postal System

Amidst the technological sophistication of the Dark Web drug trade, it still relies on ordinary couriers and postal systems for delivery of their stealth packages.

Post boxes and offices give the cops the perfect opportunity for a bust upon intercepting drug packages and parcels, and the feds would then investigate the recipient and where it came from.

Mass Surveillance

In the UK, a dedicated unit built to tackle Dark Web crime has been setup, utilizing massive mass surveillance capabilities of the country as its intelligence method.

“Joint Operations Cell” or JOC is a collaborative effort of the NCA and GCHQ, which was launched in November 2015, which is primarily focused on child sexual exploitation.

It also includes international sex trafficking as well as drug and weapon sale on Dark Web marketplaces.

Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies

Dark Web marketplaces typically utilize Bitcoin and various digital currencies with the main purpose of carrying out transactions which will not be linked to the buyer or seller’s identity.

The Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm, HSI, created a dedicated task force to track down criminals who launder their proceeds with cryptocurrencies.

In their David Burchard investigation, the focus is on the sale of large Bitcoin chunks amounting to millions of dollars.

Blockchain evidence was also part of Secret Service Shaun Bridges’ conviction, whereas thousands of Bitcoins were funneled from Silk Road into his Mt. Gox account.

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