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Dark Web: A Cautionary Tale

A recent case in New York highlights a number of interesting key facets of cyber crime:

Cheng Le, 22 was found guilty last week of trying to buy the deadly toxin ricin on a dark-net marketplace, Evolution. The US prosecutors accused him of intending to sell it on in the form of "simple and easy death pills." 

Unfortunately the individual from whom he was trying to buy the ricin was an undercover FBI agent. The FBI shipped fake ricin to Le, who, wearing latex gloves, retrieved the shipment and took its contents to his apartment, where he was arrested. His computer was found to be logged on to the Evolution website. He faces up to life in prison.

The case highlights a number of interesting developments in the field cyber crime:

  1. That the closure of Silk Road in October 2013 led to the growth of other sites such as Evolution and introduced a wealth of new users to the possibilities of the dark web and the services that could be obtained there. Time will tell whether the disruption caused by the clampdown on Silk Road and the later “Operation Onymous” has outweighed by the number of new users attracted publicity engendered by the raids. The gains made by the authorities are at risk of being washed away by the sheer volume of alternative sites set up in the wake of their activities.
  2. That sites like Evolution enabled trading not just in recreational drugs, but of items posing threats to national security. Evolution, unlike Silk Road, carried not just drugs but also toxins and weapons. The “threat” of such websites is taken extremely seriously. The UK government’s National Security Risk Assessment lists cyber crime as one of only four Tier One threats to the UK, alongside “an international military crisis”, “a national scale accident or natural hazard” and of course “international terrorism.” That is a stark warning to those involved in cyber crime of just how seriously the UK government is taking the fight against dark net crime. It is a priority and that translates to it being one of the few areas where law enforcement agencies are increasingly well funded and resourced and are actively encouraged to co-operate with their counterparts on a global scale.    
  3. Evolution no longer exists. It disappeared in March 2015 amid allegations that it was either a law enforcement honeypot, which is unlikely, although the case above clearly shows there was at least some degree of infiltration of the site by law enforcement, or that the operators of the site operated a fairly simple exit scam in which they closed down the site and stole the funds held in the site’s escrow account (a timeline can be found HERE). The anonymity afforded to Evolution by TOR and the need for users to trust the site and each other were in conflict. The risk of users being “scammed” was always present. When such scams occur, users obviously don’t have recourse to the law to recover their funds. They can’t even be sure who has scammed them. As can be seen by the comments on the subreddit linked above, things can turn nasty with threats of doxing, and even torture and assassination made against those held responsible. The torture and assassination might just be hyperbole, but in an anonymous environment such threats can’t be ruled out completely. You just don’t know who you are dealing with. Unless it turns out that you were dealing with was the FBI. They’ll make themselves known to you pretty quickly.

Cartwright King is a leading firm in the area of cyber-crime and defending allegations of computer misuse. If you are, or fear that you may be, at risk of investigation our specialist cyber crime team can be contacted for a free consultation on 0161 833 1411.

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