Thanks to the anonymity of the dark-net, criminal enterprises are thriving. The dark-net provides the ability to host underground websites anonymously on the internet.
The Truth about Dark-Net Privacy
All types of illicit activity is taking place on the dark-net. Anything from the sale of drugs, to weapons and even illegal services. The long list of illicit activities that take place on the dark-net can go on forever.
The dark-net was never created for illicit purposes. It was developed by government agencies for anonymous data transmission. Now criminals found their own use for the technology.
It is not illegal to visit platforms selling illicit goods or services on the dark-net. The highly illegal part is using the platforms to buy or sell illicit products. Despite that, many people seem to not understand the risks that come with using the dark-net. Most think that they can simply hide behind the dark-nets layer of anonymity. Onion Routing and the anonymity that comes with it create a false sense of safety withing people.
A large number of people believe that the dark-net is beyond reach of law enforcement. This is nowhere near the truth. Law enforcement agencies have caught people associated with dark-net crimes countless times. Governments around the world have employed all sort of techniques to track people. Anything from following cryptocurrency transactions on the blockchain to tracking postal systems. Governments can also seize servers hosting illicit activities and gather data from them.
This article is focused on what people need to focus on when visiting the dark-net. We will mention how different techniques are used to track dark-net users. This article is purely educational and does not encourage people to commit illicit acts online.
Tracking Postal Services
The dark-net marked a new era for the illicit drug industry. Despite that, dark-net markets focus only on the transaction side of things. Illicit goods still need to be delivered using traditional means. Traditional post offices are used for most orders placed on the dark-net. Some dark-net markets support drop-offs, meaning the item is delivered by the vendor. This method is only common in eastern European countries.
As far as most of the world is concerned, drugs from the dark-net will be delivered by a courier. Dark-net vendors go to all lengths to ensure "stealth" in order to avoid detection. Despite that, it is not uncommon for a package to get found. After all, it's not that easy to fool a trained dog or an X-Ray machine. Officials have become increasingly aware of all the packages being shipped. Not just that, but the methods that vendors use to conceal packages are becoming known. Many buyers ignore the fact that there are X-Ray machines scanning all the packages. Even if the contents are not visible, agents know when to flag a package.
Police agencies around the world are turning post-offices into their new surveillance grounds. Many agents don't just search for packages but also for the faces that are about to receive them. Investigations go even deeper than this, trying to establish the source. Many vendors have been caught dropping off packages at post-boxer or even hand delivering them to the office. The investigations don't just involve police officers but postal workers too. Many criminal faces have been identified by postal-service employees.
One example of such an arrest happened in September of 2012. That month, a Silk Road vendor got arrested after a lead from a post office employee. The vendor was consistently shipping similar looking packages. After getting suspicious the postal employee tipped off the authorities.
Market Seizures and Data Gathering
Law enforcement does not just focus on dark-net users. Market operators are a huge target for many agencies. Multiple methods have been used to track down market owners. When a market gets seized it does not only spell bad news for the operator, but for the users too. When a server gets seized all the information on it can be accessed. Some markets employee encryption but data can still be gathered if the market is running.
It is not uncommon for the government to gather fresh leads when making an arrest. This does not only apply to seized markets but also apprehended vendors. Some vendors might even agree to provide user data in order to get a lower sentence. All this information helps lead new investigations.
An example of such information gathering involves an infamous German vendor. The dark-net seller known as "Shiny Flakes" was arrested in 2015. Later investigations uncovered a huge list of customers including addresses.
It is important, for dark-net buyers to realize that a purchase from the past can still affect them in the future. Many markets that got seized in the past lead to arrests years later. One example occurred in 2016. One buyer got contacted by authorities after they found records kept by his vendor. The only way to avoid similar situations is to use a different identity. The downside is that it will be harder to receive the package and this method comes with its own risks too. If caught, a buyer can face extra charges for the false identity.
Law Enforcement Agents on the Dark-Net
If you though the dark-net can't have more traps, then you're wrong. Just like the real streets, the dark-net also has undercover cops. Normal dark-net users roaming around marketplaces or even forums can be undercover agents. This might come as a surprise to many but it is an expected occurrence. These undercover agents tend to set up vendor accounts and try to snatch unsuspected buyers. Some even buy illegal items hoping to identify the origins.
Europol published a report providing a peak into the undercover dark-net scene. The 2017 report reveals how the agencies set up traps to dismantle dark-net networks. Many tricks are employed to uncover the identity of users hiding behind tor's anonymity.
According to the report, agents took over Hansa market. Instead of taking the market down, they continued to operate it and gather information. Many dark-net buyers and vendors got exposed without suspecting a thing. This happened at the same time authorities seized AlphaBay.
Since AlphaBay got seized, countless of users migrated to Hansa Market. This helped authorities even more. To add to the plus side for the authorities, the AlphaBay seizure distracted users from the real operation.
The dark-net can be safe, but only if you know how to use it. Authorities employ countless tricks to track dark-net buyers and vendors meaning you can never be safe. The best a user can do is hide his identity and never go to pick up any packages. Despite that, law enforcement will always seek new ways to track dark-net users.