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US-version Silk Road: Is PHL ready for Internet’s dark side?

In Photo: According to cybersecurity experts, cyberspace is composed of three dimensions, with the Dark Web,containing encrypted content.

Part One

NEARLY four decades ago, Luke Skywalker rejected Darth Vader’s notion of the Dark Side of the Force. Three decades after The Empire Strikes Back film was released, the Dark Side of the Internet was born.

While it’s unknown if Skywalker yielded, many have been lured, especially those in the illegal-drug trade, to the dark side of the Web.

This so-called dark side of the Web has given birth to the Dark Web or Dark Net. This is the third dimension of cyberspace, according to cybersecurity experts. The other two dimensions are called Surface Web or Clear Net and Deep Web or Deep Net.

Clear Net refers to the domain of casual digital citizens. Any browser can be used to access Clear Net.

Deep Net stores legal documents, medical records and academic information like research studies, among others. These, however, are contents that Google, Bing or Safari have limited or no access to. Accessing these contents requires membership or authorization, as well as using a special search engine to access to the contents.

Dark Net is the site where all sorts of nefarious activities are being conducted away from the snooping eyes of the law.

Although it can be discounted that there are also illegal activities on the Clear Net, this pales in comparison to the impact of what transpires on Dark Net. Moreover, the Dark Net can only be accessed through the use of very special tools, such as TOR (The Onion Router) Browser, which enables anonymous communication, or browsing of the Internet. A user has to tweak TOR in order to use it on Dark Net.

Seven years ago, or two years before the People’s Republic of China announced its Silk Road initiative, the world was introduced to “Silk Road,” the first modern Dark Net market. As part of the Dark Web, Silk Road was operated as a
Tor-hidden service.

Distinctions

F5 Networks Inc. Worldwide Security Evangelist David Holmes said in an e-mail interview with the BusinessMirror that Dark Web (sometimes called Deep Web) and Dark Net are often used interchangeably by the general public. For threat researchers, however, these are two distinct types of hidden cyber-communication channels.

Dark Web refers to normal web sites that are not readily searchable and require a specific known address and possibly credentials to access using a normal Web browser, according to Holmes.

On the other hand, Holmes said the Dark Net contains encrypted content on shadowy networks running over the TOR system, which requires a special software to access. “Both represent places on the Internet where criminals and privacy seekers can interact away from government and police oversight,” Holmes said. “I’m going to say Dark Markets to refer to both.”

As an alternative market and gathering place for outlaw elements, Holmes considers the Dark Web as growing.

“In general, these kinds of black market electronic places have always been around,” he explained. “But with the advent of TOR and Bitcoin, they’ve been given new tools to grow.”

Double-edged

LIKE globalization, technology has also become a double-edge sword as it always make things better—for law-abiding and law-breaking users alike. For example, the rise of government surveillance by law-enforcement officials on normal Internet channels pushes criminals to seek these dark-market channels.

Erez Lugassi of Maroev Cyber Systems Inc. enumerates the characteristics of the Dark Web in a forum organized by the Israel Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ICCP). MCSI is a cybersecurity consulting firm and a member of the 1998-incorporated Fibercom Telecommunications Philippines.

In his presentation, Lugassi showed the various web sites that the Dark Net is hosting. Four are from the Philippines.

The four web sites from the Philippines sell  shabu (methamphetamine) and other illicit drugs, according to Lugassi, MCSI security architect and associate vice president for marketing and business development. He said a web site
offers illegal passports, while others deal with arms, hackers for hire, online dating and engaged in the sex trade.

AlphaBay case

LUGASSI cited the infamous AlphaBay as the superstar website of the Dark Net. By offering its so-called “unique advantages,” such as easy, nice-looking “eBay-like site,” he said clients were able to provide their comments, use escrow for payments (multisignatures before any deal was done), had referral/affiliate program and offers exit scam prevention.

AlphaBay was locked after the Operation Bayonet police operation swooped down in its base in the United States, Canada and Thailand. Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian citizen and alleged founder of AlphaBay, was found dead in his cell in Thailand several days after his arrest, according to news reports.

Citing data from the European Police and United States’s Department of Justice (DOJ), Lugassi says Cazes’s black-market web site “had as many as 40,000 vendors and 200,000 members.”

He points out that the AlphaBay “administrator” had been in the watch list of government agents, particularly from Europe and the US who were hounding him. Nevertheless, Cazes was able to elude the long arms of the law because the Dark Net’s anonymity was able to protect him.

After careful planning and preparation, combined American and European authorities efforts’ were able to track him in Thailand and apprehended him on July 5 last year after he inadvertently routed himself through his e-mail address. He was using his regular e-mail address when replying to AlphaBay users who had forgotten their passwords. Authorities found his e-mail address in the header of e-mails he sent out.

Based on the files seized from his laptop, authorities found out that Cazes personally estimated he had a total net worth of $23,033,975. He also allegedly owned a Lamborghini worth $1 million. Authorities later said they already asked for the forfeiture of his assets in Thailand, including bank accounts and four vehicles that included a Porsche.

To be continued

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