The seizure of the online hacking forum Darkode demonstrates the continuing determination of international law enforcement, led by the FBI and the UK’s own NCA, to combat criminality on the dark web.
Interestingly, the operation appears to mark something of a shift in the efforts of law enforcement agencies. Most of the initial efforts to infiltrate and close down darknet cyber crime focussed on drugs marketplaces like the Silk Road and its many successors. However, Darkode was a marketplace for data; participants could buy stolen credit card and other personal information, hacking software, and access to expertise on how to exploit vulnerabilities in websites and systems which could then be used to attack companies and governments.
As an example, in December last year, a group of hackers calling themselves the “Lizard Squad” who had close affiliation to Darkode mounted an attack on Sony and Microsoft’s online gaming platforms which were offline for most of Christmas day before those companies were able to respond.
The seizure and arrests appear to have defeated the security measures put in place by the site to protect its users; prospective members had to be proposed for membership by an existing user, and had to post a CV of their skills and achievements that could contribute to the criminal community. There was a hierarchical membership structure, and the status of users determined who they could communicate with, and their access to the commodities and services on offer. This development perhaps signifies that law enforcement are building on lessons learned in previous darknet investigations; Darkode appears more difficult to “crack” than Silk Road would have been due to Silk Road’s inherent vulnerability due to members’ reliance on “real world” postal services to ship products to consumers.
The NCA’s Steven Laval was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “Despite the exclusive nature of Darkode and the technical skills of its users, this action shows once again that we can identify and pursue those we believe are seeking to offend through an apparently secure online environment, far removed from their victims.”
Of course, closing the site and arresting alleged participants is only the beginning of a new chapter in this story. It remains to be seen whether, like after the closure of Silk Road, the response of the darknet community is simply to set up more sites offering similar services boosted by increased participation caused by the publicity surrounding Darkode’s fall. In any event, should the NCA wish to turn their present investigation into a successful prosecution, they face a number of technical and evidential hurdles which will not be easily overcome.
Cartwright King is a national Criminal Defence firm with an enviable expertise in defending allegations of cyber crime. The experience of our cyber crime solicitors in this field dates back to successfully defending the first file sharing prosecutions brought in this jurisdiction through to acting in the present “Silk Road” investigations. Our specialist cyber crime team can be contacted on 0161 833 1411 or by emailing email@example.com.