The Dark Web has been very firmly colonised by criminals looking for a safer marketplace to ply their various trades. Are the vendors and buyers in these forums the same or different to those that work in the older and more established underground forums on the open Internet?
Online criminals have long operated in unadvertised but still publicly accessible online message boards. Over time these forums have become steadily more closed communities, often requiring a recommendation from an existing member, or some other form of proof of intent, largely as a result of successful law enforcement operations. Nevertheless, they continue to be a major nexus for cybercrooks.
One of the marketplaces that does appear to have relocated almost wholesale to the Darkweb is the market for physical goods; whether it be counterfeit cash or documents, ATM skimming hardware, weapons, drugs or physical goods bought with stolen credit cards. Perhaps it is the anonymity of seller, buyer and even web site hosts that attracts. After all, many criminal forums have been successfully infiltrated by law enforcement unmasking several members at once. Or perhaps it’s simply the web site format, as opposed to forum structure, that lends itself more to attractive shop fronts for the sale of physical goods. Whatever the reasons the outcome is that it is perfectly possible for even a complete novice to be staring at lists of Darkweb cybercrime bazaars within minutes of getting TOR fired up where these items are comparatively more unusual now in the underground forums. Of course there is also a much bigger potential market for “cheap” electronics than for stolen identities and openness is the key to reaching them.
On the other hand the traditional underground forum remains a bastion of trafficking in stolen information with average prices for stolen financial information considerably lower than the offerings found on the Darkweb; stolen credit cards are on average $40 more expensive on the Darkweb than in criminals’ forums online and personally identifiable information is traded in much larger quantities albeit at similar prices.
The traditional forum has also been slower at moving to cryptocurrencies and for a long time stuck to using the more traditional payment services such as Western Union or closed currencies such as Perfect Money and WebMoney although Bitcoin is making some headway into a currency of choice there too. Although career criminals are probably a little wiser to the truth about Bitcoin’s supposed “untraceability” and “anonymity.” With Bitcoin, every transaction is added to a publicly accessible record and Bitcoin exchanges will comply with law enforcement requests for information disclosure as appropriate. Even a minor failing in operational security could expose your entire shady past with a traceable currency if you have not been careful to use a new address for every transaction.
In short, the world of online crime has found a fertile and profitable new ground in the Darkweb and its accessibility has increased the customer base exponentially. If you’re a customer though, you should be under no illusions, even if you think you’re only buying a cheap iPhone you are participating in the cybercrime economy and facilitating criminal money-laundering.
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