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Friday, August 21, 2015

Can The Dark Web Be Stopped?

What is happening in the “Dark Web” and can it be stopped? The easy answer is no, at least not in the way that the government is going about it. For those who are unaware of the Dark Web, it is an all-encompassing term for the various websites that allow people to buy illicit products anonymously. The most notable of such sites being The Silk Road, whose founder, Ross Ulbricht, received a life sentence earlier this year after a being arrested in 2013. Since the original bust, copycat sites have sprung up like weeds, and new research indicates that business is better than ever, Wired reports.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that between $100-200 million in illegal drugs are being sold each year via the Dark Web. The researchers used automated software to “scrape” the visible contents of 35 Dark Web markets. The findings indicate that government take-downs have little impact on the market and may only serve to minimize the competition, according to the article.

“What we’ve seen is that, as a whole, the ecosystem is resilient to these adverse events,” says Nicolas Cristin, study author and long time Dark Web watcher. “That shows it’s going to be a lot harder to get rid of these marketplaces than one would have thought.”

“The market is relatively stable, with sales between 300,000 and 500,000 dollars a day,” says Christin. 

What’s more, the volume of sales may actually be higher that what was reported. A recent government crackdown known as Operation Onymous, took down several sites and essentially eliminated the competition, the article reports. The two major Dark Web sites still standing, Evolution and Agora, saw an exponential increase in sales. The researchers software could no longer reliably scrape the full content, forcing the researchers to conclude the study prematurely. The researchers urge policymakers to rethink their Dark Web approach.

“It is not clear that takedowns will be effective; at least we have found no evidence they were,” they write. 

The report, “Measuring the Longitudinal Evolution of the Online Anonymous Marketplace Ecosystem,” can be read in full here.

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