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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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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road dark web marketplace

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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road

A jobless university drop-out from the UK city of Liverpool has been jailed after being convicted of running the Silk Road 2.0 dark web marketplace while collecting indecent images of children.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Thomas White, 24, helped run the original Silk Road marketplace until it was closed down by FBI investigators in 2013.

Within a month of its shutdown, White had launched Silk Road 2.0, which like its predecessor was used by vendors to offer illicit items including drugs, weapons, cyber crime tools and stolen credit card details on the dark web.

White, who abandoned his accounting degree at Liverpool John Moores University after just one term, rented a £1,700 ($2,225)-a-month apartment on the waterfront in Liverpool city centre at the time of his arrest, despite ostensibly being unemployed.

While investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said they could not be sure how much money White made while operating Silk Road 2.0, it is estimated that illegal goods worth some $96 million were sold on the platform, on which he would take a commission of between 1% and 5%.

During a raid on White’s apartment, police discovered a laptop computer under his bed, which was found to contain 464 indecent images of children in the most serious category.

It later emerged that White had discussed setting up a hidden website on which to publish child abuse material during an online chat with a Silk Road 2.0 administrator.

Like Ross Ulbricht, who was jailed for life with no parole for running the original Silk Road marketplace in 2015, White used the online alias Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to a fictional character in the novel the Princess Bride by William Goldman.

White was sentenced to more than five years behind bars.

Speaking after he was jailed, Ian Glover from the NCA said: “White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy.

“He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down.

“We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation.”

Separately, one of Britain’s most senior cyber detectives has warned that Europeans gangs are targeting autistic gamers in the hope of turning them into the next generation of hackers.

Peter Goodman, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for cyber crime, told the Press Association that more than eight out of 10 (82%) of young people being enlisted by online criminals develop skills while gaming, with many of those targeted on the autistic spectrum.

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UK regulator to fine web giants for failing to remove child abuse material and terrorist content

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Social media companies that host child abuse material and other harmful content such as terrorist or extremist propaganda could soon face substantial fines in the UK, or see their directors held personally accountable under new plans unveiled by British Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

New legalisation outlined in an Online Harms white paper will result in the establishment of a new statutory duty of care by social media firms and the appointment of an independent regulator, which is likely to be funded through a levy on the companies.

It is proposed that the new regulator will be handed powers to ensure all companies affected by a new regulatory framework fulfil their duty of care, and that social media firms are held to account for tackling online harms, ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviours which are harmful but not necessarily illegal.

Writing in a joint foreword to the white paper, Javid and Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright tell readers: “We cannot allow these harmful behaviours and content to undermine the significant benefits that the digital revolution can offer. While some companies have taken steps to improve safety on their platforms, progress has been too slow and inconsistent overall.

“If we surrender our online spaces to those who spread hate, abuse, fear and vitriolic content, then we will all lose.

“[O]ur challenge as a society is to help shape an internet that is open and vibrant but also protects its users from harm.”

The UK government will now consult on the contents of the white paper until 1 July, during which time ministers will seek submissions on options for appointing an independent regulatory body to implement, oversee and enforce the new regulatory framework.

The white paper was published after Australian lawmakers last week rushed through new legalisation that could see managers of social media firms jailed if their platforms are used for the livestreaming of real-life violent content.

Under the new law, which was rushed through parliament before elections in response to last month’s Christchurch terrorist massacre, social media managers could face three years in jail and a fine of whichever is greater out of A$10.5 million ($7.3 million) or 10% of the platform’s annual turnover.

“Together we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purpose of spreading their violent and extreme propaganda — these platforms should not be weaponised for evil,” Attorney General Christian Porter told parliament while introducing the bill.

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Global crackdown on dark web vendors and buyers scores 61 arrests

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global crackdown on dark web

A joint operation conducted by police across Europe, the US and Canada targeting buyers and sellers on dark web marketplaces has resulted in 61 people being arrested.

The operation – which was backed by Europol, the DEA and the FBI – also saw the shutdown of 50 dark web accounts that were used for illegal activities, as well as the seizure of nearly 300kgs of illegal drugs, 51 guns, and more than €6.2 million ($7 million) in cryptocurrency, cash and gold.

As part of the joint effort, law enforcement agencies in Germany have launched probes into the activities of 39 dark web users who were active on 21 different illicit marketplaces.

In November last year, special investigators in Austria arrested a group of young men on suspicion of using the dark web to sell drugs all over the world using the name “Pablo’s Kitchen”.

The gang behind the conspiracy, who were said to be living luxury lifestyles at the time they were detained, are thought to have distributed more than 1,800 packages containing drugs such as cocaine, heroin, amphetamine, methamphetamine and cannabis.

Meanwhile in Portugal, police participating in the operation have begun 13 new investigations which have led to the arrest of nine people.

They were held after house raids resulted in the discovery of ecstasy pills, MDMA powder and LSD stamps, which were found alongside dark web marketplace lonin credentials.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle, said in a statement: “The dark web is not as dark as you think. When you buy or sell illegal goods online, you are not hidden from law enforcement and you are putting yourself in danger.

“This international coordinated approach demonstrates law enforcement’s determination to tackle crime on the dark web and to reduce the number of people who fall victim to criminals selling life endangering products or scamming them for their own gain.”

Separately, Dream Market, which is currently the most popular illicit marketplace on the dark web, has announced that it will close down at the end of next month.

In a message to buyers and vendors on its home page, the hidden website said it will cease operations at the end of April, and that its service will be “transferred to a partner company”.

Infosecurity Magazine quotes Head of Cyber Threat Research at IntSights Ariel Ainhoren as saying: “A lot of dark web users started talking about drawing their balance from the site and vendors started talking about moving their business to other known markets, such as Wall Street and Berlusconi markets, but it is too early to tell what the effect of this announcement will be.”

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