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How the internet is disrupting the drugs trade

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disrupting the drugs trade

Speaking with the Independent this week, Professor Adam R Winstock, a psychiatrist who founded the Global Drug Survey, said people living in major cities across the world can now have cocaine delivered to them faster than a takeaway pizza. In London, New York and Berlin, the dark web and encrypted messaging platforms such as WhatsApp are allowing dealers to take orders online and offer superfast delivery to their customers’ doorsteps, so long as they are willing to pay a premium for the service. Instead of peddling their wares on the street, where the spread of CCTV has made it all but impossible to sell drugs without being caught on camera, dealers are now embracing new technology, which is revolutionising the trade in illicit substances in numerous countries around the globe.

The Deliveroo-style drop-off services are just one way in which the internet has disrupted drug dealing, moving the trade from street corners, bars and nightclubs to cyberspace. Proponents of the maturing online drugs marketplace argue that it offers a safer experience for buyers, removing the necessity to physically meet with dealers, but it has also made it much easier to buy substances that would previously have taken some effort to get hold of. Where purchasing drugs might once have involved numerous phone calls and travelling to meet a dealer who might not show up or run off with their money, buyers can now have their substance of choice delivered to their home in a few mouse clicks.

The dark web drug revolution has also resulted in the strength of narcotics sold on the internet increasing, as dealers seek to establish a reputation for quality through eBay-style feedback systems and online word of mouth. In the UK, drug users can now buy 85%-pure cocaine for as little as £40 ($55) a gram. Street cocaine in Britain can be as little as 20% pure. While this might be seen as a boon to some users, experts have warned that a new wave of super-strength drugs could put inexperienced users’ lives at risk. In a recent Reddit thread, an online drugs tester cautioned that consuming 85%-pure cocaine could result in users winding up in hospital. “This is very potent and users should be very careful with initial dosing – 100 MG will not be fun,” the tester wrote. “A UK user, who thinks they are experienced but buys low-quality cocaine in pubs and takes a 300MG dose, could end up in A&E. Please don’t be Billy big b****cks and try and impress your friends that you have the best cocaine available. Seeing your mate foaming at the mouth is no fun.”

The online drugs trade has also seen the potency of ecstasy rocket over recent years – a phenomenon that has coincided with the number deaths linked to the drug rising to a 10-year high across Europe. In the UK, a typical ecstasy tablet now contains 108mg of MDMA, compared with around 80mg per pill in the drug’s late-eighties/early-nineties heyday. Last month, reporters from Britain’s Daily Star newspaper discovered ecstasy tablets containing 200mg of MDMA for sale on the dark web, which is enough to kill. Some pills are now so potent that dealers warn potential customers to only take one half at a time. The UK, which experienced the highest number of drug overdose deaths in Europe last year, has seen multiple ecstasy-related deaths over recent years, resulting in London’s iconic Fabric nightclub being closed down after a number of young revellers lost their lives at the venue after taking the drug. Last month, dark web drug dealer Kurt Lailan from the British city of Portsmouth was jailed for 16 years after prosecutors told a court how two brothers died after buying ecstasy tablets from one of his vendor pages.

In the US, the dark web is playing a major role in the country’s epidemic synthetic opioid crisis, which has led to a sharp rise in the number of overdose deaths there in recent years. The US Department of Justice cited the sale of fentanyl as one of the reasons behind its takedown of dark web marketplaces Hansa and AlphaBay last summer. Hidden drug markets are awash with listings for fentanyl, which is being produced on an industrial scale at illicit drugs factories in China before being shipped to key markets such as the US, Europe and Australia. Speaking at the White House last October, US President Donald Trump promised a crackdown on the widespread availability of synthetic opioids across the country, an ambition that will be incredibly difficult to realise given the ubiquitous supply of substances such as fentanyl on dark web marketplaces.

As has been the case with many other industries, the internet has changed the drugs trade beyond all recognition, and will continue to do so as dealers now move away from the dark web to encrypted massaging apps in the wake of a number of hidden marketplace busts. While it may be the case that the online drugs trade results in buyers not having to deal with criminals on street corners, it is clear that it brings with it a new set of problems, which are not limited to the rising potency of traditional narcotics and the widespread availability of deadly new substances such as fentanyl. As well as making it all the more difficult for law enforcement authorities to catch dealers, the online sale of drugs is costing lives, and will likely continue to do so in greater number.

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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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