The Dark Web, sometimes called the Darknet gets a little brighter. Tuesday April 5, 2022 it was announced that German Authorities had seized Hydra Market, the largest illegal marketplace on the Dark Web.
So, what is the Dark Web anyway? The short answer is a part of the Internet that isn’t visible to search engines and requires a special browser to be accessed. For more information see the Ken’s Korner Newsletter from June 2015.
Hydra Market, the largest and longest running dark web market, was a Russian language site which conducted about eighty percent of the dark web crypto transactions. Estimated to have annual revenues of about $1.3 Billion and operating since at least 2015. With over seventeen million user accounts, (known customers) and nineteen thousand sellers. It was infamous for extensive drug trafficking also a major player in the market of forged documents and stolen credit cards.
This didn’t happen overnight. Extensive investigations by German Federal Police, (the Bundeskriminalamt) along with several US agencies have been ongoing since August 2021. They seized the server structure which was located in Germany along with crypto wallets. They also seized an additional five hundred-forty-three Bitcoin worth about $25 Million.
This is a big win for the good guys. We can add that to the list of Dark Web operations that have been taken down such as AlphaBay, Silk Road, DarkMarket and a host of other operations, while this shines a bit of light on the Dark Web, I wouldn’t bet that it will dissuade other nefarious characters from starting another such endeavor.
There have been cases where law enforcement took control of the illicit site but left it up and running. With law enforcement officers running it so they could get a handle on some of the customers and arrest them too. Since the predominant method of payment on the Dark Web is Bitcoin that offers law enforcement another tool since Bitcoin is far from anonymous.
These cyber criminals, while very sophisticated, often make really dumb mistakes. Ross Ulbricht, (AKA Dread Pirate Roberts) who created the infamous site, Silk Road sure did. In the early days the Silk Road was advertised on a Bitcoin forum using a personally identifiable email address. Mr. Ulbricht was given five concurrent sentences including two for life without parole.
Online identities are often the brand and basis of the reputation for cyber criminals. The prolific Dark Web drug dealer, David Ryan Burchard was arrested after he tried to trademark his Dark Web brand, “caliconnect” using his own name. Pride goeth before a fall!
However not all of the Dark Web is a den of thieves. Over sixty-five-thousand unique URLs ending with the “.onion” suffix exist on the TOR network. Some studies have estimated that at least half of these sites are actually legal.
For individuals living in countries run by oppressive regimes who block large parts of the Internet and punish political dissent the Dark Web can provide a means of communication with at least some protection against persecution. In countries with less oppressive governments, it can be a whistle-blowing and communication tool that shield people from retribution or judgement in the workplace or community.
These days many organizations maintain a presence on the Dark web including most major news organizations, Facebook and even the US Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA). For them the TOR website establishes a commitment to privacy. Often this “commitment” is mostly symbolic but it amounts to a doorway that virtual walk-ins to provide sensitive information covertly.
But before you decide to jump in and start your own chat room, file host or marketplace on the Dark Web remember that while average people can’t see what is going on in the “dark” others can. The authorities have a special “night vision” for the Dark Web.
The Dark Web was originally developed by the US Defense Department in the late nineteen nineties as a means for spies to communicate anonymously. This clandestine intention was never fully realized and it was released into the public domain.
To access the Dark Web, you will need the TOR browser, (a free download). Short for The Onion Router for the many layers of encryption. The TOR constantly switches from one route to another. While one data packet may travel to its destination via a node in one city the next data packet travels through a node in another city, state even another country. Using at least one Virtual Private Network, (VPN) to reduce the possibility of your IP address being seen. While not required, is a good idea to cover your tracks.This switching can make tracking nearly impossible unless you are in control of a large number of the TOR routers on the network. Then you can see the unique Media Access Control, (MAC) address of an individual machine showing up again and again on various routers and trace them back to the source. It is estimated that over half of the TOR routers on the network are owned by the US Government.
For example, a group dealing in child pornography and operating in Southern California thought they were safely hidden on the Dark Web. Actually, the Feds were watching them in real time as they conducted business. Oh yes, they got busted along with a number of their “clients”.
Addendum to the February 2022 Newsletter.
If you thought that was just too far-flung science fiction type stuff with robots taking over for humans consider this update to the February 2022 Newsletter on transhumanism. Here is a list of just a few of the example of robots starting to enter our everyday lives.
These are just a few examples of the large number of robots currently available. We are not close to singularity yet. In fact, some of these seem rather crude. I for one will keep my real live dumb dog. Beware, the price tag on some of these is not for the faint of heart or those suffering from thin wallet syndrome.
Did you buy your household robot with Bitcoin on the Dark Web yet?
And remember — always back it up!