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Infiltrating the Dark Web

Law enforcement agencies are challenged on many fronts in their efforts to protect online users from all manner of cyber-related threats. Through constant innovation, cybercriminals across the world are developing increasingly sophisticated malware, rogue mobile apps, and more resilient botnets. With little or no technical knowledge, criminals now occupy parts of the Internet to carry out their illegal activities within the notorious Dark Web.

Publicly available, but with highly sophisticated encryption, the specific group of websites that coalesce as the Dark Web provide an environment for contemporary villains to anonymously carry out their illegal activities. From inciting violence to human trafficking, the use of cyber space to plan, conduct and commit crime significantly stretches the traditional physical, legal, and structural boundaries of policing practices. Cybercrimes cut across the current tiers of police prioritisation frameworks, from lower level crimes of online bullying, to the more serious and organised crimes of sexual exploitation of children, drug trafficking, and terrorism.

The totality of cybercrimes organised within the Dark Web now requires a fresh approach to bring cybercriminals to justice and to restore law and order to the Internet. While law enforcement agencies across the world are in reality just beginning to understand the full extent of online crimes, and are gaining a richer picture of the challenges they face in policing cyberspace, significant investment in their capacity and capability is required to effectively tackle and infiltrate the Dark Web.

The plotters and conspirators who frequent the Dark Web will continue to evolve at a pace beyond the reach of traditional law enforcement methods.

Unfortunately, there is no technological or legislative ‘silver-bullet’ solution to tackling the Dark Web. Criminals conducting online abuses, thefts, frauds, and terrorism have already shown their capacity to defeat Information Communication Technology (ICT) security measures, as well as displaying an indifference to national or international laws designed to stop them. The uncomfortable truth is that as long as online criminal activities remain profitable, the miscreants will continue, and as long as technology advances, the plotters and conspirators who frequent the Dark Web will continue to evolve at a pace beyond the reach of traditional law enforcement methods.

There is, however, some glimmer of light amongst the dark projection of cybercrime as a new generation of cyber-cops are fighting back. Nowhere is this more apparent than the newly created Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) within Europol, who now provide a dynamic response to strengthen the fight against cybercrime within the European Union and beyond Member States borders. J-CAT seeks to stimulate and facilitate the joint identification, prioritisation, and initiation of cross-border investigations against key cybercrime threats and targets – fulfilling its mission to pro-actively drive intelligence-led actions against those online users with criminal intentions. Supporting INTERPOL last year, cybercrime fighters from Europol have already struck back at cybercriminals by helping to take down the servers of the infamous Darkbot botnet, which has been infecting millions of computers since 2011.

The J-CAT model of operating now provides a blueprint for combating cybercrime trends. Law enforcement agencies are increasingly in favour of intelligence-driven security approaches which can operate in mobile and cloud environments. Such an approach makes greater use of behavioural analytics and takes full advantage of smart device capabilities to protect users and data. Even if attacks cannot be blocked completely, having access to the right intelligence makes it possible to detect an attack more quickly, significantly reducing the attacker’s window of opportunity and minimising the potential for loss or damage.

While law enforcement agencies continue to prepare and equip themselves for the future fight against users of the Dark Web, they are taking positive strides to disprove the incorrect perception that real world laws do not apply online. The police are now showing that online harassment, intimidation, threatening behaviour and organised crime will not go unpunished. Furthermore, they are developing increasingly effective collaborative approaches to bring cybercriminals to justice – all of which requires a dedicated and determined response to pursue them to the very darkest corners of the web.

Featured image credit: deep cover graphic base by Jeff Mikels. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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