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The danger of dark web weapons dealers

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dark web weapons dealers

The closure of a number of online hidden marketplaces over the course of the past few years has proven that the dark web does not perhaps offer the protection and anonymity that many once thought it did. From the capture of original Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht back in 2015, to the closure of AlphaBay and Hansa earlier this year, some of the administrators of these illicit websites have discovered to their cost that law enforcement agencies across the world can and will deploy considerable resources towards bringing them to justice. For some traders, the perceived risks associated with using the dark web have become so high they have abandoned hidden marketplaces altogether, preferring instead to shift their dodgy online businesses to encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp and the lesser-known Discord. However, recent history has showed that as soon as one dark web marketplace is closed down, another pops up to take its place. Failing that, sellers simply move their operations to another illicit marketplace that is still in business, often taking their username and reputation with them. As a result, the demise of the dark web trade in illicit goods and services looks to be a long way off.

While most listings on hidden illicit marketplaces are dedicated to drugs, buyers can use the dark web to get hold of child sexual exploitation material, stolen credit card information, fake IDs and hacking services, among an array of other illegal items. More worryingly, all manner of lethal weapons can be purchased from dark web marketplaces by anybody who has the rudimentary technical knowhow to find them. Only last week, a British teenager was found guilty of attempting to buy powerful explosives on the dark web. Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) intercepted the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and replaced it with a dummy bomb before allowing it to be delivered to Gurtej Randhawa. The 19 year-old is facing a lengthy jail term when he sentenced in January next year. The NCA said Randhawa had no links to terrorist groups or organised crime, but the ease with which he was able to procure such a destructive weapon, which police said could have killed many people if it had been detonated, was extremely concerning – not least in light of the heightened threat many countries across the world are facing from Islamist extremists and a resurgent far right.

In an example of how dangerous weapons being sold on the dark web can be if they fall into the wrong hands, the 9mm Glock used by Munich gunman Ali Sonboly, who killed nine people and then himself during a marauding firearms attack at a shopping mall in the city last summer, was discovered to have been bought from a hidden marketplace. Police examining Sonboly’s digital devices were able to establish that the pistol was most likely smuggled into Germany from Slovakia, which like many countries in Eastern Europe is awash with firearms left over from the Yugoslav Wars. Although the weapons used in the November 2015 Paris attacks were not proven to have been procured on the dark web, some hidden marketplaces removed their weapons listings in the wake of the atrocity, during which 130 people were killed by jihadi terrorists. In a message to its buyers after the assault, Nucleus said: “Dear users, in the light of recent events in France we have decided to remove our weapons section and we are going to disallow weapons on our market completely.” Unfortunately, not all dark web marketplace administrators are so troubled by their conscience.

It may well be the case that firearms and other weapons account for a small proportion of the illicit goods and services sold on the dark web, but the potential danger they pose is deeply troubling, regardless of whether that risk is associated with terrorism, organised crime or lone buyers. While guns currently account for a tiny percentage of dark web listings, a report published by think tank the RAND Corporation in July revealed that weapons dealers who sell their goods on hidden marketplaces are “increasing the availability of better performing, more recent firearms for the same, or lower, price, than what would be available on the street or the black market”. The study also found that dark web firearms sellers are dismantling the guns they sell and then sending components to customers separately in a bid to avoid detection. Researchers found that the sale of guns and related products generated 136 sales a month on the dark web, bringing dealers a monthly revenue of $80,000.

The recent closure of major dark web marketplaces seems to have done little to slow buyers’ demand for weapons on hidden marketplaces, with two teenagers being arrested in the Netherlands last month for attempting to order a gun online, and Australia’s Daily Telegraph warning that more people in the country are buying firearms from dark web dealers than ever before. If anything, the range of weapons available on the dark web is growing, with the UN warning that terrorists might soon be able to purchase 3D printing technology that would allow them to print their own guns from hidden marketplace dealers. As a consequence, it feels almost inevitable that it will not be long before another mass-casualty terror attack will be carried out with weapons purchased from the dark web.

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California man jailed for soliciting murder of stepmother on dark web

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murder of his stepmother on dark web marketplace

A man from California has been sentenced to three years behind bars after being found guilty of attempting to hire an assassin on the dark web to kill his stepmother.

Beau Evan Brigham, a 33-year-old from the city of San Luis Obispo, was jailed on Monday after being found guilty of soliciting the murder of the woman by a jury last month.

Judge Jesse Marino sentenced Brigham to the lowest possible prison sentence for the crime, meaning he will likely be released from jail in around four months once the amount of time he has spent behind bars already has been taken into consideration.

Speaking after sentencing, District Attorney Dan Dow said: “While we recommended more than three years, a prison sentence is the only appropriate punishment for the extraordinary steps Beau Brigham took to anonymously have someone killed.

“Brigham tried to anonymously plot and secure the death of his stepmother on the ‘dark web’ when he extensively researched, found, and attempted to secure a hitman.

“This cowardly criminal used the latest technology to prevent his detection, but he could not successfully hide.”

Under Californian law, Bingham could have faced a maximum custodial sentence of nine years.

Brigham’s plot was brought to the attention of local investigators by CBS News’s 48 Hours programme, which received a tip-off from UK cyber security expert Chris Monteiro, who had caught wind of what he was planning during his research.

After launching an investigation, San Luis Obispo Police Department established that Brigham had solicited the murder of his stepmother through the Cosa Nostra dark web illicit marketplace in April of last year.

Brigham and his brother sued their stepmother in 2015 for taking part of their inheritance after their father died in 2011 and secured a large judgement against her.

When questioned, it was put to Brigham that he had requested that any attempt on his stepmother’s life must be made to look an accident on account of the fact he would be a likely suspect if she met a suspicious end.

He later indicated to police that he had only used the website as a means by which to attract the attention of his stepmother, but maintained that he could not remember having sought to solicit a hitman to carry out her murder.

Despite Brigham saying in a statement that he was sorry for the “huge mess” he had caused, Judge Marino noted his lack of remorse during sentencing.

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Pyongyang denies UN claims North Korean hackers stole $2 billion in attacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges

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Pyongyang denies UN claims North Korean hackers stole $2 billion

The North Korean government has denied allegations that it had illegally acquired $2 billion through cyber attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges and financial institutions.

Responding to allegations made in an upcoming UN report that was leaked to Reuters last month, Pyongyang said the US was to blame for the circulation of “fabricated information”, describing the dissemination of the allegations as “the same old trick as the Hitler fascist propagandists”.

In its report, which is due to be published later this week, the United Nations Security Council’s Panel of Experts on North Korea reportedly claims that the $2 billion was raised during “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” cyber attacks, and that the funds raised are being used to fund the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

The panel also alleges that Pyongyang used “cyberspace” to launder the money it stole during these attacks, adding:  “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea cyber actors, many operating under the direction of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, raise money for its [weapons of mass destruction] programmes, with total proceeds to date estimated at up to two billion US dollars.”

According to the report, investigators have identified at least 35 instances of suspected North Korean hackers being involved in cyber attacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, as well as mining activities designed to earn foreign currencies in 17 countries.

Responding to the allegations in a statement published by KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, Pyongyang denied the claims.

“The United States and other hostile forces are now spreading ill-hearted rumours that we have illegally forced the transfer of two billion US dollars needed for the development of WMD programs by involving cyber actors,” said a spokesperson from North Korea’s National Coordination Committee of the DPRK for Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism.

“Such a fabrication by the hostile forces is nothing but a sort of a nasty game aimed at tarnishing the image of our Republic and finding justification for sanctions and pressure campaign against the DPRK.”

A separate UN report published back in March linked hackers from North Korea to attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges across the world that resulted in the theft of $571 million.

The majority of this was said to have been stolen in the January 2018 hack of Coincheck, a cryptocurrency exchange based in Japan.

The UN study also accused hackers from North Korea of being behind the 2016 theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank.

Speaking with CyberScoop when the latter report was published, Hugh Griffiths, who heads the UN panel, said: “What stands out [from the report] are the amounts of money involved and the sheer scope of the operations, [which are] highly coordinated and disciplined.

“The ability to breach banking security is extremely worrying and raises broader questions.”

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US prosecutors charge 80 alleged members of $46 million online fraud and romance scam gang

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online fraud and romance scam gang

Prosecutors in the US have charged 80 members of a mainly Nigerian fraud and romance scam gang with scores of offences.

Members of the network, which is said to have been involved in the theft and laundering of millions of dollars, allegedly targeted mostly elderly victims in one of the largest cases of its kind ever seen in the US.

The 80 defendants were charged by a court in Los Angeles last week after police arrested 14 suspected gang members, 11 of whom were detained in the Los Angeles area.

As well as romance scams, the gang is also said to have carried out business email compromise frauds and several other schemes in which victims were convinced to hand over money under false pretences.

The two lead defendants, Valentine Iro and Chukwudi Christogunus Igbokwe, both Nigerian citizens living in the US, are said by prosecutors to have conspired with others in the US, Nigeria and other locations to set up bank and money service accounts to be used to receive funds conned out of the gang’s victims.

Iro and Igbokwe, who were among those arrested last week before charges were laid, stand accused of being involved in a series of scams that resulted in the fraudulent transfer of at least $6 million of stolen funds.

In total, the wider conspiracy is said to have involved the attempted theft of at least an additional $40 million.

According to prosecutors, Iro and Igbokwe fraudulently set up and provided bank accounts, sometimes with the assistance of money mules, into which the proceeds of the network’s scams could be paid.

The pair are said to have taken a cut of the monies transferred as a commission for their services.

Paul Delacourt, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, commented: “Today’s announcement highlights the extensive efforts that organized criminal groups will engage in to perpetrate BEC schemes that target American citizens and their hard-earned assets.

“Billions of dollars are lost annually, and we urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims.

“The FBI is committed to working with our partner agencies worldwide to continue to identify these cyber criminals and to dismantle their networks.”

All 80 defendants said by police to have been involved with the fraud network have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money and aggravated identity theft.

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