New research suggests that cyber-thieves are creating an “invisible internet” to stop police spying on cyber-crime deals taking place on the so-called dark net.
Instead of trading on marketplaces, criminals have turned to “gated” chat forums, invitation-only communities and encrypted apps. The change could make it hard for law enforcement agencies to spot and trace attacks. The researchers also found a large increase in attacks aimed at big companies.
The study embedded undercover researchers into a wide variety of forums and gated chat forums on the dark net.
The dark net is the part of the internet not accessible to search engines such as Google, and for which people need a special browser to visit. The best-known dark net is accessed via the Tor browser.
Successful efforts by police to infiltrate dark net marketplaces as well as raids that saw many of them closed down, had pushed criminal hackers to adopt more secure ways of communicating, said Dr Mike McGuire, a criminologist from the University of Surrey, who led the project.
“It’s not as vibrant as it once was because they know the feds are listening and that they will take down markets,” he said.
While criminal gangs were still active on those publicly accessible marketplaces, said Dr McGuire, any conversations about targets and tactics were instantly moved to secure apps such as Telegram or separate forums and chat rooms.
“It’s becoming like an invisible internet,” he told the BBC. “That’s going to be worrying for law enforcement.”ark net deals are for drugs but cyber-crime services can easily be found on the hidden sites
For the study, researchers posed as customers and quizzed hackers about the cost of a wide variety of cyber attacks, They probed market rates for tailored malware attacks, phishing campaigns, industrial espionage and insider information.
The cyber-crime economy that had emerged on the dark net was a mirror of the legitimate industry. The cyber-crime economy was diverse and sophisticated, with many hacking gangs specialising in just one aspect of an attack, such as crafting malware, writing convincing phishing emails or setting up sites to grab data from victims. It was also clear that hackers could get access to almost any network they desired.
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