Beware Of The Dark Web!
Jamaica’s ongoing battle to keep up with, and even stay ahead of today’s sophisticated criminals, necessitate that our crime-fighters acquaint themselves with the technological perspicacity that is inherent to living in today’s modern world.
Agencies such as Financial Services Commission of Jamaica, Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and indeed all law-enforcement arms, are aware of the havoc that nefarious use of the World Wide Web has created on jurisdictions such as ours, which struggle to keep up with the resources, particularly to counter the cybercriminals who often have massive resources at their disposal.
Realising that crime-fighters from the more developed countries, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are increasingly making inroads against perpetrators who abuse the Internet, the criminal world, in recent years, have been routing many of their schemes through the Dark Web, particularly since many of their transactions can avoid regulatory oversight by utilising bitcoin currency.
WHAT IS THE DARK WEB?
Persons indulging in smuggling weapons, drugs, counterfeit, money laundering and so on, have developed mechanisms to transfer information online via encrypted online content that is not indexed on conventional search engines, and forms a ‘deep web’, which allows a wide collection of content that doesn’t appear through regular Internet browsing.
Cybercriminals are able to maintain anonymity during their communications using a ‘Tor’ technique known as onion routing, which messages over a computer network are encapsulated in layers of encryption, analogous to layers of an onion.
The encrypted data is transmitted through a series of network nodes called onion routers, each of which ‘peels’ away a single layer, uncovering the data’s next destination. When the final layer is decrypted, the message arrives at its destination. The sender remains anonymous because each intermediary knows only the location of the immediately preceding and following nodes, and transactions in this hidden economy are often made in bitcoins, and physical goods are shipped in a way to protect both the buyer and seller from being tracked by law enforcement.
Law-enforcement investigators have determined that not all Dark Web sites (also referred to as the ‘Darknet’) use Tor, as some use similar services such as I2P, but the principle remains the same. To be successful, the criminal user has to use the same encryption tool as the site, and has to know where to find the site, in order to type in the URL, in order to conduct their intended shenanigans.
SILK ROAD AND THE DREAD PIRATE ROBERTS
Possibly the most infamous exponent of the Dark Web is Ross William Ulbricht, a convicted American darknet market operator and narcotics trafficker, best known for creating and running the Silk Road website from 2011 until his arrest in 2013. He was known under the pseudonym ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’, and with the assistance of an astute IRS criminal investigator Gary Alford, the FBI was able to secure Ulbricht’s conviction in the United States courts on February 4, 2015, when the jury convicted him of seven charges, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and computer hacking.
On May 29, 2015, Ulbricht was given five sentences to be served concurrently, including two for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and was ordered to forfeit $183 million. On May 31, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied Ulbricht’s appeal, and affirmed the judgment of conviction and life sentence, and the Supreme Court subsequently declined to review the case.
IMPLICATIONS FOR JAMAICA
Not surprisingly, crime-fighters globally are now equipping themselves to counter these Dark Web threats. In March 2015, for example, the United Kingdom Government launched a dedicated cybercrime unit to tackle the Dark Web, with a particular focus on cracking down on serious crime rings and child pornography.
We cannot sit idle by and wait until Jamaican gangsters purchasing weapons, drug runners, ‘scammers’, corrupt officials or whoever locally, emulate the feats of Mr Ulbricht, further add to our crime-fighting woes. In fact, God forbid, our local criminals are probably already surfing this Dark Web.
The good news, however, is that with vigilant cybercrime awareness, and increased forensic accounting capabilities, we can partner with our international law enforcement allies to mitigate these threats.
To be successful, however, we must start by being aware of this Dark Web. It is good to remember the philosophy of the legendary Anglo-Irish author, orator, statesman, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke, who opined:
“Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident a security.”
Jamaica, beware of the Dark Web!