What Lies Beneath: The Deep Web

“What Lies Beneath:  The Deep Web”  is Chapter 8 of The Cyber Effect” an important book by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., a cyberpsychologist.  Dr Aiken likens the Deep Web to the pirates of the Caribbean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  She writes that it a vast uncharted sea that cybercriminals navigate skillfully, taking advantage of the current lack of governance and authority—or adequate legal constructs to stop them.
Although cybercriminals can be found anywhere on the Internet, they have a much easier time operating in the murky waters of the darkest and deepest parts.

Almost any kind of criminal activity—extortion, scams, hits, and prostitution—can be ordered up, thanks to well-run websites with shopping carts, concierge hospitality, and surprisingly great customer service.  Cybercriminals are con artists who are expert observers of human behavior, especially cyberbehavior.  They know how to exploit the natural human tendency to trust others, as well as how to manipulate to give up their confidential, information, or what is called a socially engineered attack.  Regarding  identity theft or cyber fraud, it is usually much easier to fool a person into giving  you a password that it is to hack it.  This type of social engineering is a crucial component of cybercriminal tactics, and usually involves persuading people to run their “free” virus—laden malware or  dangerous software by peddling a lot of frightening scenarios (which is called shareware).  Fear sells.

The Deep web refers to the unindexed part of the Internet.  Dr. Aiken says that it accounts for 96 to 99 percent of content on the internet.  Most of the content is pretty dull stuff, a combination of spam and storage—U.S. government databases, medical libraries, university records, classified cellphone and email histories.  Just like the Surface Web, it is a place where content can be shared.

What makes the Deep Web different is that content on the Deep Web can be shared without identity or location disclosure, without your computer’s IP address and other common traces.  Since these sites are hot indexed they are not searchable by typical browsers like Chrome or Safari or Firefox.  For software that protects your identity, an add-on browser like Tor is one of the most common ways in.  Tor is an acronym for “the online router” because of the layers of identity-obscuring rerouting.  The Deep Web was first used by the U.S. government, and the protocols for the browser Tor were developed with federal funds so that any individuals whose identity needed to be protected—from counterintelligence agents to journalists to political dissenters in other countries—could communicate anonymously with the government in a safe and secure way.  But since 2002, when the software for Tor became available as a free download, a a digital black market has grown there.  This criminal netherworld is populated by terrorists networks, criminal gangs, drug dealers, assassins for hire, and sexual predators looking for images of children and new victims.

Monitoring and policing the Deep Web is a problem because there is almost an infinite number of hiding places, and most illegal sites are in a constant state of relocation to new domains with yet another provisional address.  Many of these sites do not use traceable credit cards or PayPal accounts.  Virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin are the coins of this realm.

Hidden services include crimes for hire and the selling of stolen credit information or dumps.  McDumpals is one of the leading sites  marketing stolen data  has a clever company logo featuring familiar golden arches and a McDumplas mascot, a gagster-cool Ronald McDonald.

Silk Road was an online black market, the first of its kind—offering drugs, drug paraphernalia, computer hacking and forgery services as well as other illegal merchandise—all carefully organized for the shopper.  Ross William Ulbricht ran the Silk Road for 2.5 years.  Silk Road attracted several thousand sellers and more than one hundred thousand buyers.  It was said to have generated more than  $1.2 billion dollars in sales revenue.  According to a study in “Addiction”, 18% of drug consumers in the U.S. between 2011 and 2013 used narcotics bought on this site.  The FBI estimated that Ulbricht’s black market had brought him $420 million in commissions, making him, according to “Rolling Stone” “one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the dot-com age.

According to the U.S. District Judge who sentenced Ulbricht at his 2014 trial, Silk Road created drug users and expanded the market, increasing demands in places where poppies are grown for heroin manufacture.  This black market site had impacted the global market.  The prosecutors alleged that Ulbricht had ordered up and paid for the executions of five Silk Road sellers who had tried to blackmail or reveal his identity.  Prosecutors traced the deaths of six people who had overdosed on drugs back to Silk Road, and two parents who had lost sons spoke at the trial.   Ulbricht was found guilty of seven drug and conspiracy charges and was given two life sentences, another of twenty years, another for fifteen years, and another for five years, without the chance of parole.

Shortly after the arrest of Ulbricht and the shutting down of the Silk Road in 2013, Silk Road 2.0 emerged.  Many more copycat sites sprang up  like Evolution, Agora, Sheep, Blackmarket Reloaded, AphaBay and Nucleus, which are often referred to as cyryptomarkets by law enforcement.

Dr. Aiken goes into the morality of the users of the Deep Web, the psychology of the hacker, and Cyber-RAT (routine activity theory) in more depth than can be related in a blog post.

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One Response to “What Lies Beneath: The Deep Web”

  1. russvane3 Says:

    Thanks. I really didn’t know about this and should have.

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