Avoiding Arrest: Cyber Criminals Share Dark Web Secrets

On the Dark Web there are many secrets to be found, including insights into what criminals say and do if they are caught.  Recent research conducted by the Digital Shadows threat intelligence team explored the discussions between black hat hackers and the exchanges made in how to avoid jail, including advice about what do to when they are on law enforcement radars and they come to the prospect of arrest. 

In particular, Digital Shadows gathered information on the the idea, in which law enforcement "will not care" if the US or EU are targeted, but the moment any former Soviet Union nations are involved, they will "hunt you down." 

It appears that in Russia cyber criminals live a relatively peaceful life, but attempting to go abroad is more risky as they are much more likely to be arrested. One poster said that the "best country" to be in is Russia, but "under appreciation and low wages drove him to participate in unethical and criminal behavior." 

Operational security (OPSEC) practices are also widely discussed, with forum users exchanging ways to avoid arrest and stay anonymous. Numerous threads mention everything from virtual to physical security options, but one common topic of discussion, in particular, is widely debated.  

Hard drive encryption or deletion is sometimes cited as a way to stop law enforcement investigations in their tracks, however, not every forum user is so sure, with one saying, "if it were all as simple as that then major cases would never be solved." Early mistakes in criminal careers also appear to be causing some sleepless nights, with poor OPSEC when starting out being a difficult issue to remedy. 

"Many a threat actor's downfall stemmed from poor OPSEC practices when they first decided to don the black hat, such as using a spouse's email address, forgetting to mask their IP, or letting their real name and address slip," one Digital Shadows researcher commented.

In addition, discussions have taken place over collaboration. While many believe that other dark web forum users will "sell out" each other, others say that forging ties with others in the criminal industry can push threat actors up the pecking order.  

Digital Shadows noted that allegations are flying thick and fast that English-speaking criminal forums and marketplaces are becoming little more than police honeypots. Some forum users said that "sooner or later," law enforcement will obtain information on them, and others relayed concerns over potential police violence on arrest. 

Others appear, at least online, to have a rather bullish attitude to the prospect of prosecution at all. Laws worldwide are still catching up with the evolution of cyber crime, and for some, corrupting law enforcement and saving enough to pay bribes and avoid prosecution is a possibility. One forum user wrote, "a good lawyer knows the law, a better one knows the judge."  

According to threat researchers at  Cisco Talos "Cyber criminals, just like the organisations they target, must always have one eye on their security practices... There are so many things for them to worry about and ways they can slip up..It must be pretty tiring. Threat actors must keep looking over their shoulders, fixing past mistakes, and coming up with new ways to beat the technology used to track them."

Experts say that while there are ways to trace activity on the dark web, police officials always require special training and specific information about the activity.

Security researcher Karan Saini at India's Centre for Internet and Society said, “Attempting to track unconventional online behaviour would call for development of new methods, along with formal training for those involved, especially if malicious actors are using the Tor network to carry out illicit activities instead of the clear web”

Digital Shadows:     Talos:     ZDNet:     Economic Times:     Journal of Criminal Law:    Image: Unsplash

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