North America’s Cyber ‘Underground’ Still Relies on Surface Web

Forget the Deep Web; North America’s Cybercrime underground is as open and free-to-enter as they come, but no less stocked with stolen data, contraband and illegal services, according to a new Trend Micro report.

The security giant’s latest report, North American Underground, likens the online space to a “glass tank”—where trade goes on in full view of the criminals and law enforcers. But just like a glass tank “as much as it is transparent, it is also fragile.”

All the usual suspects are there, from crime ware—including hacking tools, bulletproof hosting and crypting services—to stolen data and fake docs, and drugs and weapons.

There’s even a disturbing trend of murder-for-hire sites.

Yet amazingly the North American cyber-underground doesn’t limit membership and access. Instead, many sites are found on the Surface Web, so that “anyone with the right search query can enter.”

Prices have also been driven down due to fierce competition, said Trend Micro.

But although law enforcement should theoretically have an advantage, given this transparency, cracking down on these sites is not as simple as it sounds, according to Trend Micro’s chief cybersecurity officer, Tom Kellermann.

“Law enforcement is actively investigating these forums but they are overwhelmed with case load as we are experiencing a cybercrime wave,” he told Infosecurity. “Also, the life span of most underground sites is short. They could be up one day and gone the next. Investigations will have to keep up with this fast pace.”

Virtual currencies like bitcoin and payment transfers through services like Western Union are also used to keep buyers and sellers anonymous—as they are not tied to an official bank account.

Things might be changing, however, which will cause law enforcers and stakeholders further headaches.

“These forums will slowly migrate into the dark web as we continue to disrupt their activities,” said Kellermann. “The dangerous trend here is that they provide hybrid capabilities to traditional criminals. Extortion will explode this year [2016] as a result.”

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