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Home Secretary Announces Police 'Crackdown' on Dark Web

The home secretary will today announce a new multi-million-pound 'crackdown' on illegal dark web activity, although the plan is light on details.

Speaking at the National Cyber Security Centre’s CYBERUK conference in Manchester today, Amber Rudd is expected to say that the Home Office is releasing £9m to support police efforts at tackling cybercrime.

It’s unclear how much of that will be allocated to policing the dark web, something notoriously difficult thanks to anonymizing tools like Tor.

However, £5m will be spent on establishing dedicated cybercrime units at a regional and local level, with only 30% of forces currently having the capabilities they need, according to the government.

Rudd will describe the dark web as a “platform of dangerous crimes and horrific abuse” in which “a sickening shopping list of services and products are available.”

However, the speech – seen in advance by Infosecurity – is light on details. Where US law enforcers have had breakthroughs in the past it has usually been after criminals made mistakes in the physical world, allowing them to infiltrate networks and catch suspects.

For example, one drug dealer was caught after eagle-eyed postal workers’ suspicions were raised when he handed over dark web packages for delivery, whilst wearing latex gloves.

Rudd claimed the £9m is part of a previously announced £50m dedicated to improving police cybercrime resources in 2018/19. This will include development of a new national training program for police and the criminal justice system, and a £3m Cyber Aware campaign to educate the public and businesses on cybercrime issues.

Although politicians usually focus on paedophile rings and drug dealing marketplaces when they talk about the dark web, it’s also a hotbed for the trade of stolen or breached credentials.

In December, researchers found a trove of 1.4 billion breached credentials on the dark web, the largest of its kind ever found. Then, earlier this year, more researchers found 2.7 million stolen online account log-ins from Fortune 500 employees on a dark web site.

Critics were quick to pour scorn on the idea of ‘cracking down’ on the dark web.

“Amber Rudd cracking down on the dark web appears to be a political motive because it makes dark web actually sound like a real location where cybercriminals hang out but just don’t use their real names,” said Thycotic chief security scientist, Joseph Carson.

“Nine million pounds to clean up the dark web is not even going to make a dent. You will have a better chance at cleaning the entire ocean from garbage than cleaning the dark web. This money would be better spent on educating the future generation on identifying cybercrime, rather than trying to clean something which is almost impossible.”

Matt Walmsley, EMEA director at Vectra, agreed that the announcement was motivated by politics rather than pragmatism.

“Giving police additional resources to investigate and bring cyber-criminals to justice is a laudable goal, but £5m alone, allocated for the regional local level support, isn’t going to scratch the surface,” he added. “Even if you get over the significant barriers of accurate attribution of the cybercrime, it’s more than likely the suspects will be outside of UK legal reach, and so challenging to bring to justice.”

However, Danny Rogers, CEO of dark web intelligence firm Terbium Labs, broadly welcomed the news.

“That said, my only caveat would be to encourage the law enforcement community to separate out the actors who are committing the crimes with the underlying anonymization technology that the dark web takes advantage of,” he told Infosecurity.

“We've seen plenty of positive uses around the world for anonymization technology, especially in enabling dissidents and journalists working under hostile or authoritarian regimes. Thus, I would strongly remind them that the technology is morally neutral — the actors who use it are not.”

Rudd’s announcement also comes after severe austerity-related policing cuts by the government were blamed on the dramatic recent rise in violent crimes in the UK.

A leaked Home Office report claimed that the cuts had “likely contributed” to the rise in crime, but Rudd has denied seeing the report.

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