Sixgill, an Israeli threat intelligence company, recently revealed that a Russian-language darknet forum has been selling access to the content management systems of a variety of news sites.
According to the company, the illicit trade has been going on since October 2018.
One bundle that the darknet website offered contained logins to 1,425 U.S.-based news sites.
uring the time of listing, the starting bid price was at $600 with an option of outright purchase at $1,200.
In December, the forum offered another package with access to centralized admin panels of more news sites from countries other than the U.S., including Saudi Arabia and several southeast Asian nations.
The second listing was cheaper than the first. Its starting bidding price was only $50 while the buy-it-now option cost $150.
The access to these sites would give the buyers the ability to edit news stories to suit their preferred lines of thought or to upload their content. According to Alex Karlinsky, a Sixgill intelligence expert, these hacks may have been political.
The incident has taken place at a time when Russians face accusations of using Facebook and news websites to influence the 2016 general elections in the U.S. Hence, the report may worsen the already deteriorating relationship between the two mighty nations.
The Internet as a Source of News
The internet has become a source of virtually everything, especially news. Unfortunately, the increasing expertise of numerous individuals in hacking has exposed online news to biased editing.
According to an Oxford University study in 2017, 84 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 in Britain have the internet as their primary source of news.
The same survey revealed that 62 percent of people between 25 and 34, and 53 percent of people between 35 and 44 also got their news from social media and other internet sources.
People have resorted to seeking information on the internet due to its ability to allow the rapid dissemination of information from anywhere in the world.
Additionally, people are becoming increasingly wary of news from traditional media houses because they believe politicians and big corporations can influence them.
Nonetheless, this incident revealed that online news has also become vulnerable to political influence.
The Sale of Data on the Dark Web
For the last couple of years, cybercriminals have been using the dark web to sell private data from different companies and social media sites.
For instance, in mid-2018, hackers sold access to the secrets of several law firms.
Q6 Cyber investigated a case in which hackers offered access to the entire network of a law firm in New York for $3,500.
The investigators warned that law firms dealing with publicly traded companies could give hackers the power to manipulate stock markets, which would affect the economy.
Cryptocurrency’s Involvement in the Crime
According to Sixgill’s report, it is highly likely that the people behind the hack of the news sites sold the login details in exchange for cryptocurrency.
The firm based this assumption on the frequent use of cryptocurrency for such sales on the dark web.
Authorities from various parts of the world are attempting to tackle the reality that cryptocurrency has enhanced the growth of data sales.
Law enforcement agencies such as Europol are therefore working a lot harder to stop illicit cryptocurrency-enabled trade.
Presently, Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency among cybercriminals, although other digital assets are slowly gaining ground.
Research by Princeton University recently further revealed that Bitcoin-supported crimes are now traceable.
Based on the study, investigators can rely on web trackers and cookies to identify Bitcoin transactions.
Some of the cryptocurrencies that still have a high level of anonymity include Monero and Zcash. They are also among those whose popularity has recently grown.
Monero, for instance, has a feature known as Bulletproofs for facilitating private transactions.
With Bulletproofs, users can conceal the amounts that they send, giving them tight security.
Despite their progress in fighting against illegal activity involving Bitcoin, the authorities still have a long way to go considering that transactions using other cryptocurrencies are a lot harder to track down.
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