Deep Web Crime Requires New Forensic Approaches


Crime has a new face, and what’s most worrying to investigators across the globe is that it is anonymous. How do police organizations catch criminals who are nameless, faceless and virtually invisible? This is a question that police agencies around the world are considering and taking action against. To learn more, check out this infographic.

deep web infographic image

Text: The Deep Web

The Internet has brought the world to the fingertips of even the most average of Internet users and continues to amaze people with its power, reach and influence. What most users aren’t aware of, however, is that the average user accesses only a minor fraction of the entire web. The Internet reaches far and beyond what meets the eye. Before learning more, it’s important to understand how the web works from a high level.

Understanding the Web

The Internet can be broadly divided into two sections, the visible and the invisible web. The visible web consists of the websites that are indexed by popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing. The invisible web, which makes up 90% of the web requires special protocols for access, with no specific keywords needed for this purpose. In other words, it can be accessed, only if you know how. The deep web receives 50 percent more traffic that the visible web. So clearly a large chunk of the Internet users across the world have access to it, and use it frequently. This area accounts for 500 times more space than the visible web. Now the question that confronts investigators is who is using this web space and why.

The deep web can be accessed by anyone who has I2P, the Invisible Internet Project, or TOR, The Onion Router. The purpose of both these systems is to make it virtually impossible to trace the point of origin of traffic to a given website. This is achieved by encrypting the web traffic and then bouncing it off randomly chosen computers. When the traffic moves from one computer to the next, a layer of encryption is removed and replaced. In other words when a web user uses I2P or TOR and visits websites their IP address cannot be detected.

Dark Web vs Deep Web

The dark web is a section of the deep web. While it accounts for a minuscule section of the whole web, the manner and purpose for which it is used makes it a grave threat. The dark web is often associated with nefarious intent. This includes sale of drugs, identity theft and counterfeit currency. Investigators also find that it offers terrorists a safe place to organize themselves and share information with regard to, propaganda, recruitment, finance and planning.

In 2013 when The Silk Road, a black marketplace for illegal drugs, was closed down its estimated value was said to be over $1.5 million. Since then it has risen and again been closed down, and now Silk Road 3.0 is functional. It is believed that every day $300,000-$500,000 worth of illegal drugs are sold on the dark web.

Millions of people are victims of identity theft because identities, credit and debit cards are sold on the deep web in batches of one million. Data lapses have made it easy to prey on the people’s personal information. And the anonymity of the deep web facilitates the sale of this information.

Why is Dark Web Crime Difficult to Fight?

Dark web crimes are difficult to fight for numerous reasons. To begin with it is difficult to pinpoint the point of origin of traffic and hence this hampers investigations. Jurisdiction is another issue that complicates the fight against cyber crime in the dark web. Invisible web makes it easy and simple for criminals from different parts of the world to coordinate and work together. When police attempt to investigate cases that stem from the dark web they often find that they are faced with jurisdictional issues between different nations.

Bitcoin is a digital currency, which is used to complete financial transactions on the internet without following conventional banking procedures. This makes it difficult for the police to gather information regarding the buyer and the seller. It is estimated that millions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoins are in circulation and pay for illegal purchase of drugs, weapons and to finance crime.

Adapting Forensic Investigative Procedures

International as well as local investigative agencies are now taking an active role in understanding the deep web and are leveraging cutting edge computer forensic techniques to combat the crimes taking place. As crime finds new, virtually untraceable, venues and creative ways of commission, policing agencies also require new and novel approaches.

Consultants and experts on the subject are finding ways to partner so that jurisdictional issues can be dealt with effectively. The Interpol Cyber Research Lab has been set up to train officers in investigative techniques specific to crime in the deep web.

Officers of the law are being educated to detect crime and look for human errors that lead them to the perpetrators. For instance the founder of The Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested after investigators found a trail of information leading to the black marketplace.

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