International crime has taken a digital perspective that has traversed key echelons of global law enforcement.
Criminals have gradually shifted from their former run-of-the-mill armed robber status to syndicates of tech-savvy thugs with a gut to aggression and sophisticated computer knowledge to boot.
In essence, the crime families of today do not employ traditional financial crimes of the olden times, but have turned into a class of white-collar criminals who operate in rather safe environments that guarantee their circumvention of the law.
It is noteworthy to realize that even the existing ecosystem of digital-backed crime began with a single step.
Right now, and in the future, it appears that fraud schemes have grown out of the cryptocurrency boom and the increasing popularity of darknet platforms.
The love for crypto coins can be inferred by noticing the harshness of modern judicial systems in combating international crime.
In addition, the risk of losing money and amassed materials to asset forfeiture has driven criminals to walk the cryptocurrency path.
Thus, it is proper to state that cryptocurrencies have become an efficient avenue for hiding “dirty money,” which advances the difficulty of authorities in investigating crime-sourced finances.
A study of cryptocurrencies such Monero and Zcash adds weight to this argument because, well, most of these virtual coins were created by seasoned money launderers who aimed to thwart cybercriminal law enforcement.
Having introduced the basic constructs of digitally-backed crime, the following sections will build an argument to justify a need for law enforcements to study cryptocurrencies and the dark web comprehensively.
Modern Crime Trends: Drugs, Cryptocurrencies & the Dark Web
The dark web has played host to various drug-dealing syndicates across the world. Almost all types of controlled drugs can be searched and easily procured over darknet markets.
To be successful, buyers simply need a cryptocurrency wallet, an address for dropping off the purchased drugs and a computer.
At this point, the process to obtain drugs becomes a “walk-through” since once the buyer identifies their drugs of choice, a ritual click follows to “buy” and “checkout” the goods.
They would then key in details pronouncing the necessary shipping information then proceed to make payment, also through a simple click.
As demonstrated above, the process of buying drugs over the dark web takes place in a matter of minutes.
The discrete nature of online drug sales and the corresponding use of cryptocurrency payment options has added to a host of challenges plaguing drug enforcement initiatives today.
The main difficulty stems from the fact that virtual coins and darknet markets have revolutionized the scale and fashion of modern drug dealing.
The drug dealers of today have shifted from selling drugs in bulk to dealing substances in small sellable amounts.
The use of small drug doses, such as 10-20 pills sold in small packages, has made it increasingly difficult for authorities to intercept drug consignments on transit.
This reality has been well captured by various new items indicating the rampant use of mail services in the delivery of dark web-bought drugs.
It has become common that drugs shipments are increasingly being made across borders through regular envelopes and greeting cards.
This technique has so far succeeded in slowing the full extent of drug enforcement within police jurisdictions worldwide.
Indeed, drug dealers have come to the understanding that large packages are a thing of the past, smaller drug consignments are hard to intercept.
Looking at the perspective of recreational drug purchasers, we find that buyers prefer to order items from darknet vendors due to the promise of anonymity by the dark web ecosystem.
It is for this reason that statistical estimates point to the fact that drugs take up two-thirds of all darknet market activity.
In a typical dark web market scenario, buyers can discretely order and receive drugs in the comfort of their own homes, thus safeguarding their privacy and eventual professional reputations.
The darknet, crypto-supported drug trade has become an efficient engine that oversees the delivery of banned substances to locations in record times.
This user-friendly, privacy-centric and low-risk option has made the crypto-savvy darknet markets to provide reliable drug delivery services to drug users across the broad economic spectrum.
The Role of Big Data in Law Enforcement
The realm of international law enforcement is highly dynamic. On one hand, some police cases can be solved by simple methods while, on the other hand, some scenarios call for the assistance of multiple pieces of evidence.
For instance, in a hypothetical example, Officer A may arrest one crime suspect whose offence has been confirmed, but the officer may believe in the existence of an accomplice.
This cop knows that the suspect patronizes a restaurant in a pattern-like fashion, and witnesses may identify him but no one else.
At this point, the officer extracts the location data from a cellphone belonging to the second suspect, which indicates that the individual was in the company of the first suspect at specific times.
Such an occurrence would lift the lid on a possible pattern of events that warrants a police investigation.
The above example happens to be a reality in the solving of crypto-associated crimes in varied administrative jurisdictions.
Law enforcement agencies may examine cryptocurrency choke points and possible communication files in order to obtain critical information for a case.
Such information may include—device fingerprints to link criminals with each other, information that advises the custodians of an account and public encryption keys.
Thus, it has been found that such linkages in law enforcement have led to significant criminal busts, ranging from the arrest of individual offenders to the dismantling of entire organizations.
The modern technology of this age may be mesmerizing to say the least, but it serves as a portal to a myriad of other aspects that traverse livelihoods.
At the end of the day, it still stands to be a tool that is used even within the corridors of law enforcement to track the activities of seasoned criminals across the world.
Haystacks of relevant information may be linked to patterns that advise software tracers in leading authorities to a criminal target.
This technique was well represented in a 2016 case of Bitcoin theft that affected Sheep Marketplace—a darknet market that launched in March 2013, just seven months before the famous shutdown of Silk Road later that year.
In the Sheep Marketplace case, an agent spent several weeks tracking the Bitcoin transactions involved in the million-dollar heist, whose investigation would have taken a much shorter time owing to today’s technology advancement.
Why Is Cryptocurrency & Darknet Education Critical in Law Enforcement?
The growing popularity of virtual coins as the choice value of exchange by criminal groups builds the importance of law enforcement education on both cryptocurrencies and the dark web.
An understanding of the fundamental principles and functions of the dark web and cryptocurrency is critical in addressing the interests of police departments that are charged with maintaining law and order within their communities.
This knowledge also extends to the need for officers to update their understanding about the methodologies used in tackling the crypto-darknet quagmire as well as the existing systems of darknet monitoring and analysis.
Another concern for police departments and the financial industry is the typical peer-to-peer crypto trader.
The peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchanger is often a money launderer for dark web activities.
The trader plays a vital role in the workings of the dark web by establishing a link between the criminal underground and the conventional financial system that is regulated by banking systems.
This reality presents itself when an individual advertises themselves as a contact willing to exchange fiat currencies for virtual money or vice versa.
Such an arrangement takes place outside of the boundaries of traditional financial systems that define national and international economies.
The trader, in this case, can become an important point of information since they would have to cash in the accumulated cryptocurrencies at some point.
Arguably, in a business scenario, criminals would be glad to exploit new technologies to stay under the radar of law enforcement.
The entry of cryptocurrencies into the underground scene began like this—when darknet masterminds sought to conceal their identities from possible investigation and arrest by the police.
It therefore becomes important for police departments to establish themselves as the early adopters of technologies in order to avoid an element of surprise on their part.
So, to conclude, the cross-education of law enforcement agents between the cryptocurrency and darknet ecosystems can go a long way in controlling the current evolution of a crypto-fueled criminal industry on the dark web.
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