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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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One child sex offence involving online indecent images recorded every seven minutes in UK

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Child sex offence involving online indecent images

One child sex offence with an online element is recorded in the UK every seven minutes, according to new data obtained by the NSPCC.

After submitting freedom of information requests to police forces across the country for the latest figures relating to the sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18, the child protection charity discovered that recorded sex crimes against minors and young people have increased by more than 60% since 2014/15 to 76,204.

In cases in which the age of victims was provided, 16,773 offences were recorded against children aged 10 and under, while 341 were recorded against babies under the age of one.

Responding to the data, the NSPCC has called for the greater provision of specialised services for victims of child sexual exploitation across the UK, a more joined response to the problem from public services such as the police, healthcare providers, children’s services and advocacy groups, and the establishment of child-friendly spaces for children who have experienced sexual abuse.

Commenting on the figures, NSPCC boss Peter Wanless said: “Record numbers of child sexual offences means we are facing a nationwide crisis in the help available for tens of thousands of children.

“These children are bravely disclosing what happened to them but in too many cases there is not enough timely, joined up and child-friendly support. Instead they are shunted from overstretched service to service.

“We need a radical rethink in the way we help these young people, otherwise they could struggle for the rest of their lives with long term, deep seated trauma.”

Back in April, Britain’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) revealed that it took down more than 100,000 webpages containing indecent images of children and young people aged under 18 in 2018.

The IWF said it discovered and took down a record 105,047 webpages featuring indecent material last year, many of which contained hundreds of illegal images and videos.

This figure was up from 78,589 pages the organisation identified and removed from the internet in 2017.

Earlier this month, Europol warned in its latest Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA)  that the increasing volume of child sexual exploitation material being distributed online is in danger of overwhelming law enforcement agencies.

“The online solicitation of children for sexual purposes remains a serious threat with a largely unchanged modus operandi,” the report read.

“Self-generated explicit material is more and more common, driven by growing access of minors to high quality smartphones and a lack of awareness of the risks.”

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Europol widens its partnership with US online security company Palo Alto Networks

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EU law enforcement agency Europol and US cyber security firm Palo Alto Networks have announced an expansion of their partnership in fighting online crime and working together to make the internet safer for members of the public, private firms and governments.

Building on an existing agreement between Palo Alto and Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), the two organisations have jointly signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) that outlines how they will exchange threat intelligence data and details of cyber crime trends, as well as technical expertise and best practice.

The relationship between Europol and Palo Alto will be widened to include the dynamic exchange of cyber threat intelligence with an aim to improve knowledge on new adversary behaviours, malware families and attack campaigns across the globe.

Palo Alto said its Unit 42 threat intelligence team would be central to the extended partnership, noting that analysts from the department work to uncover and document new threats, and help organisations defend themselves from the latest cyber threats by sharing insight into the various tools, techniques and procedures that threat actors use.

Speaking after the MoU was signed, Head of EC3 Steven Wilson commented: “The close collaboration between law enforcement and the global industry is crucial for countering effectively the increasing threat that criminals pose to the safety of the cyber space.

“We are confident that working together with the leading companies in the cyber world will significantly enrich the toolbox of the global coalition against cyber crime.

“This kind of cooperation is the most effective way to protect citizens’ and businesses’ digital lives.”

Earlier this month, Europol’s latest Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) revealed that hackers are increasingly seeking out more profitable targets, and that ransomware remains the top online crime threat facing EU member states.

According to the study, while the number of ransomware attacks went down over the course of the past year, the criminals behind them are increasingly targeting more profitable victims with a view to causing greater economic damage.

Elsewhere, the report revealed that phishing and vulnerable remote desktop protocols are key primary malware infection vectors, and that data remains a key target for cyber criminals.

The study also found that the sheer volume of child sexual exploitation material being distributed online poses a threat of overwhelming law enforcement agencies.

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US police use sophisticated cryptocurrency tracing techniques to smash world’s largest dark web paedophile film network

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world’s largest dark web paedophile film network

US prosecutors have charged a South Korean man with running the world’s largest dark web distribution network for indecent images of children, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

Jong Woo Son, 23, has also been charged and convicted in South Korea, where he is currently serving jail time for the crimes of which he stands accused in the US.

The Welcome to Video website, which is reported to have hosted more than 250,000 indecent videos featuring minors that users had downloaded more than one million times, charged paedophiles for access to abuse material using cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Despite Son’s concerted efforts to avoid being discovered by law enforcement authorities, investigators were able to trace the server he used to host the site through sophisticated cryptocurrency tracking techniques.

An additional 337 site users were arrested across the US as well as in country’s including the UK, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

As well as the arrest of users of the site, the operation to close down the three-year old paedophile film network also led to the rescue of least 23 child victims of abuse in the US, Spain and the UK.

Son was arrested in March last year in South Korea in an operation that resulted in the seizure some eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation material, which the DoJ said was one of the largest such discoveries of its kind.

Specialists at the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) examined the material and found the site contained over 250,000 unique videos, 45% of which featured new images that had not been previously known to exist.

The website offered access to this content in exchange for payment in Bitcoin.

Analysis of the server that hosted Welcome to Video revealed that the site had more than one million Bitcoin addresses, suggesting it had the capacity for at least one million users.

Commenting on the shutdown of the site, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs said: “Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable.

“Sadly, advances in technology have enabled child predators to hide behind the dark web and cryptocurrency to further their criminal activity.

“However, today’s indictment sends a strong message to criminals that no matter how sophisticated the technology or how widespread the network, child exploitation will not be tolerated in the United States.

“Our entire justice system will stop at nothing to prevent these heinous crimes, safeguard our children, and bring justice to all.”

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