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Shedding Light on the Dark Web

Following David Cameron’s warning that the Dark Web is increasingly being used by criminals, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and GCHQ have created a joint taskforce to tackle the serious crime rings operating on the Dark Web.

This new initiative will initially target the criminals responsible for the online abuse of children—sending a message that soon, there will be nowhere for these criminals to hide.

Regaining Control of the Web

The Dark Web is estimated to be 1,000 larger that the web content searchable by Google. It is publically visible but cannot be found through search engines, meaning you have to know where to look to access these sites.

Consequently, the Dark Web is famous for enabling laudable causes such as whistleblowers and activists, but also criminal networks that trade in online child exploitation, stolen information, illegal drugs, and extremist operations.

A new taskforce aimed at bringing these illegal activities to light is a step forward for the UK government in regaining control of the Dark Web. It may however, seem an impossible task at the moment with the Dark Web’s well-deserved reputation for anonymity.

The Dark Web’s Achilles Heel

However, this apparent criminal advantage could actually be the Dark Web’s weakness. The anonymity of the Dark Web means criminals are sharing more information than is pertinent under the apparent anonymity offered by encryption and hidden websites.

Unfortunately for these individuals, they are forgetting the three golden rules of the internet: 1.Nobody is anonymous; 2.Anybody can be hacked; 3.All information can be made public. This final rule is one which all users of the internet, whether the Clear Web—information available for viewing to anyone—or the Dark Web, need to bear in mind: that any information can and will eventually be unencrypted. In the fight against criminal networks, governments across the globe have already begun to prove this theory.

The successful investigation and arrest of Ross Ulbricht, creator of Silk Road, is an example of this worldwide effort to access the information held on the Dark Web and use it for prosecution.

The implications of these examples are impressive, with the potential for the law enforcement community being able to access the data available on the Dark Web meaning it could lead to the apprehension of some of the world’s most infamous drug barons, human traffickers and extremists.

Information from the Dark Web will, one day, be unencrypted—and if the internet has anything to teach is, it’s that all will eventually come to light.

For the time being however, law enforcement agencies face the problematic task of how to reveal all the evidence needed within the data to discover the heads of these criminal networks, in order to successfully bring them to justice.

Discovering Actionable Intelligence

David Cameron described the new taskforce as “a genuinely innovative development…to tackle the most complex cases and the most dangerous offenders online.”

The complexity of these cases is indeed the key challenge for cyber-taskforces. This challenge lies in analysing, making sense of and gaining insights from this huge amount of digital information.

The traditional investigative techniques won’t be able to cope with the sheer volume and variety of information that has grown in such complexity and scale that only technology can handle and maximise its value.

Technology such as advanced crime analytics is therefore crucial to get usable intelligence from Dark Web data, information that adds context to an investigation. Once this data is unencrypted, software can be used to analyse information to reveal opportunities to disrupt and dismantle criminal networks and activities.

Encrypted data however, is simply one example of the vast and varied amounts of lawfully gathered data which can form part of an investigation. For example, various data sets such as emails, video, chat, social media, financial transactions or third party data. Advanced crime analytics can rapidly load information regardless of data source or format. Investigators may then quickly query across all data to see if there are common connections which might have otherwise not been detected.

This kind of software is already used around the world by law enforcement agencies to help combat money laundering, fraud, financing of terrorist activities and help in the fight against serious and organised crime, human trafficking, gun running, drug smuggling and high consequence cybercrime.

When combining all evidence or data involved in an investigation with the information locked away on the Dark Web, it could be an invaluable and essential tool to meet the specific challenge of shedding light on the Dark Web.

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