The Darknet: a Dangerous Place

October 6, 2021

Criminal activity on the Darknet is growing and evolving. One person who has taken it on themselves to study the shadow realm shares some of their experiences and observations with reporter Vilius Petkauskas in, “Darknet Researcher: They Said They’ll Come and Kill Me—Interview” at CyberNews. The anonymous interviewee, who works with research firm DarkOwl, describes a threat to their life, one serious enough to prompt them to physically move their family to a new home. They state:

“There was one specific criminal actor I was going after, trying to figure out where they were operating, who they were involved with, what groups they were affiliated with. I became a target. They turned on me and said, we will find whoever wrote this and come kill them. We will destroy them.”

Yes, poking around the Darknet can be dangerous business. What sorts of insights has our brave explorer found? Recently, there has been a substantial uptick in ransomware, and for good reason. The researcher explains:

“Look at ransomware as a service (RaaS). First and second-generation ransomware lockers were developed by incredibly smart malware developers, cryptologists, and encryption specialists. Those who designed and employed such software were some of the most sophisticated malware developers or ‘elite’ hackers around if you want to label them that. But with the RaaS affiliate model, they’re giving others the chance to ‘rent’ ransomware for as little as a few hundred bucks a year, depending on which strain they’re using. Anyone interested in getting into the business of ransomware can enter the market without necessarily having any prior or expert knowledge of how to conduct an enterprise-level attack against a network. Some of the gangs, like Lockbit 2.0 are nearly entirely automated, and their affiliates don’t need to have the slightest clue what they’re doing. You just push, plug, and play. Identify the victim, drop it onto the network, and the rest is taken care of.”

How convenient. Getting into the target’s network, though, is another matter. For that criminals turn to

initial access brokers (IABs), also located on the Darknet, who help breach networks through vulnerabilities, leaked credentials, and other weaknesses. See the write-up for more of the researchers hard-won observations. They close with this warning—there is more going on here than opportunists looking to make a buck. Espionage and cyber terrorism are also likely involved, they say. We cannot say we are surprised.

Cynthia Murrell, October 6, 2021


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