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Open Source Intelligence Techniques and the Dark Web

We all know and use the surface web, but did you know that this is only 4% of the internet itself? This blog discusses what businesses should be doing to minimize Cyber Security threats through the Dark Web.

QA | 1 July 2015

What is the Dark Web?

We all know and use the Surface Web, this is the part of the Web indexed by popular search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! The Deep Web on the other hand is anything that normal search engines cannot access, whereas the Dark Web is a portion of the Deep Web, intentionally hidden and accessible only through anonymity software such as Tor (The Onion Router). The Deep Web currently makes up approximately 96% of content on the web, which means that though Google indexes billions of pages – this is only about 4% of the internet. The Dark Web is much smaller but widely renowned for illegal activities that go on there.

How does this affect businesses

In 2013 The Silk Road, the Dark Web’s most infamous narcotics trading website was seized, and the administrator Ross Ulbricht arrested. The FBI managed this using good knowledge of the Dark Web and Open Source Intelligence techniques.

Over the course of two and a half years The Silk Road hosted over a million sales of 11,000 types of narcotics. As the site grew so did attention from the world's press and (inevitably) law enforcement on the Dark Web. This “Wild West of the Web” is a place where anything could be bought or sold, leading people (including congressmen) to question how this could ever happen.

Cryptography experts explained that Tor, the champion software of online anonymity seekers everywhere, could also be used to host web servers in its “encrypted cloud." In this cloud the IP address of the website is hidden. The IP address (like the phone number of the internet) is instrumental in how we all access websites - it tells your browser the location of the web server on the Internet. It is similarly instrumental in how law enforcement close down illegal websites - by using the IP address to find the physical location of the web server and seizing it. With Tor hiding the IP address of a web server there was no way of closing it down no matter what the website is selling.

The Silk Road’s seizure brought the existence of the Dark Web into the mainstream and raised questions about Cyber Security for those in Government, Law Enforcement and the Private Sector.

The Dark Web is not just a trading place for narcotics but used for many other illegal activities including hacking services and for selling hidden vulnerabilities in computer systems. Therefore having an integrated understanding of the Dark Web is as important for private companies as it is for the Government.

Using anonymity tools like Tor are also key when carrying out investigations of any kind, whether that be into narcotics, cybercrime, fraud or compliance.

Combating the Dark Web

It appears for now that Dark Webs are here to stay, so what can be done to stop the illegal activities? Although the technology being used is very advanced, the weakest link in the chain is always the human.  As Ross Ulbricht discovered it is very difficult to completely divorce your illegal activities from bleeding over into the real world.

Techniques like Open Source Intelligence gathering and a proper understanding of the Dark Web is the first step in combating the Internet’s dark places.

QA has courses covering the introduction to Open Source Intelligence, Advanced Open Source Intelligence techniques and a one-day course on the Dark Web.

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