Law Enforcement Fights Back Against the Dark Web

The underground marketplace has become a haven for hackers and identity theft

We have previously talked about the dark web and its underground markets, many of which are virtual super stores for those buying illegal drugs or weapons, scammers stealing identities, purveyors of credit card fraud, and master hackers targeting businesses. A formal definition of the dark web is a collection of websites that exist on an encrypted network and cannot be found by using traditional search methods or visited by traditional browsers

A Haven for Hackers and Identity Theft
According to Anna Lothson in a post to the Rippleshot blog, the dark web market has become a haven for hackers to access credit card data and then commit credit card fraud. The packaging and auctioning of compromised cards occurs faster than a bank can detect it. The monetization of compromised cards has become a sophisticated industry utilizing the dark web.

Also, the reselling of stolen credit and identity data through the dark web is running rampant and creating a whole new business for hackers. According to Suzanne Woolley in a Bloomberg article, high-limit credit cards are selling on the dark web for the bitcoin equivalent of between $10 and $20. Business credit cards are even more valuable as they often have very high or no spending limits.

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In addition to credit card data, underground markets also sell full identities of individuals for as little as $10 apiece. They are called fullz—“dossiers that provide enough financial, geographic, and biographical information on a victim to facilitate identity theft or other impersonation-based fraud.” Fullz allows fraudsters to get past secret questions asked to verify identity, like your mother’s maiden name. Researchers from SecurWorks, an information security service, recently found one vendor selling W-2 and 1040 tax returns as a package for $30. If a buyer wanted information on the victim’s adjusted gross income, they could get it for an additional $20.

A recent study by cyber security company Bromium and researchers at the University of Britain found that four in ten dark web vendors are selling targeted hacking services aimed at FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 and Fortune 500 businesses. And illegal dark web activity is on the rise.

Law Enforcement’s Response
But law enforcement is fighting back hard. In late April, law enforcement announced the takedowns of two of the world’s largest dark web drug sites known as Wall Street Market and Valhalla. And the popular dark web market called Dream recently took itself offline. Just last week the FBI and Europol announced the takedown of dark web news and information site DeepDotWeb.

DeepDotWeb had been making millions of dollars from offering promotional links to black market sites in a type of underground affiliate marketing scheme. FBI special agent Maggie Blanton, who heads the Bureau’s Hi-Tech Organized Unit, told WIRED magazine, “We viewed DeepDotWeb as a gateway to the dark web.”

Is it over? Probably not. Despite recent wins by law enforcement, the dark web seems to be following its long-term pattern of boom and bust. Longtime dark web researcher Nicolas Christin from Carnegie Mellon University thinks that in an economy where the demand (from drug addicts) remains constant and growing, it may slow for a while, but another boom is probably inevitable.

We’ll have to wait and see.

This article was originally published in February 2018 but was updated in June 2019.

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