What is the problem?
Technology has revolutionized policing practices and at the same time it has facilitated criminality. The Dark Web has emerged as a digital space where content has been intentionally concealed and users can surf anonymously. It is used for several legitimate purposes, such as to perform marketing tracking, to circumvent censorship and to conduct research on topics that might be sensitive in certain countries. At the same time, the Dark Web facilitates “high tech” and organized crime. Anonymity is a key element for illegal activities on the Dark Web: identities are concealed via the Onion Browser (TOR) and virtual currencies such as Bitcoin are used largely anonymously.
The policing of crime on the Dark Web raises a number of issues. Traditional approaches bring limited success in a cybercrime community that can develop countermeasures fast. “One size-fits-all” approaches against crime on the Dark Web hold little promise, since there are a wide variety of crimes occurring. “Total-block” strategies, i.e. based on shuttering down all anonymous networks, are impossible. The challenge is to find a balance between individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech, and the need to fight crime. Innovative and carefully chosen countermeasures that can apply in an international context must be developed.
“I went from a feeling of ‘the sky is falling’ to an optimistic view. Today we discussed several innovations and a common goal for overarching international cooperation. The gaps can be filled.”
Dark markets create a transnational and highly dynamic context, where criminals can innovate very fast. This requires an increased coordination at the international level.
A global combating strategy is tough to achieve, therefore we have to focus on concrete initiatives not only at the European level; many coordinated local efforts exist and should be strengthened.
A lot of good work is in fact already in place: to grow in efficiency and limit duplications and costs, we should increase the exchange of information and collaboration. Examples include centralized dark web trainings, a common (bitcoins) database and shared analytics tools for investigators. Homogeneity becomes a key-word at the legal and regulatory level as well: we should create a common international legal framework, comprising Internet as well as cryptocurrency regulations, and demand mandatory risk assessments for service providers and cyber-relevant companies.
Finally, disrupting the dark markets requires continuous innovation at the research level. “We do not have enough knowledge inhouse” says Jaap van Oss, Dutch High Tech Crime Unit, “so we experiment collaborations with those who do”. Knowledge institutions and private companies should play an increasing role and be stimulated to conduct R&D on the still existing gaps. We need to keep researching automatic data investigation tools, digital forensics methods, big data solutions, and tactics for countering the voices on the Dark Web.
This workshop was organised by TNO and took place during the Hague Cyber Security Week 2017 (25 -29 September). The Cyber Security Week is powered by The Hague Security Delta.