Hit TV shows can lead children to web crime

Simon Clifford - Director for Technology and Digital Transformation at Northamptonshire Police
Simon Clifford - Director for Technology and Digital Transformation at Northamptonshire Police

For the PSNI there is a real concern about young people being drawn into cyber crime via the dark web.

“The attraction is there, the accessibility, the barrier to entry to this is so low,” DCI Dougie Grant says. Before it used to be necessary to know criminals to get involved - but now people do not know where the line is.

Some children are now using “DDOS” cyber attacks - bought on the dark web - to disrupt rival gamers who are beating them online. This has a low chance of police detection. But if young people start to use the same software to disrupt a retail website it could cost it up to £200,000 in lost business, he says.

The man leading Northamptonshire Police’s transformation towards tackling digital crime similarly warns that ‘benign’ searches for ripped-off versions of hit shows using dark web software such as The Onion Router (TOR) are opening young people up to a disturbing criminal underworld.

He said: “Kids will learn that from their peers. What some kids do is they have a laissez’ faire approach to law through watching say TV shows that aren’t available in their country.

“Even though anti-copyright legislation has really tightened up what appears on Google, the TOR browser doesn’t care.

“Even if you just want to watch some benign TV show that isn’t available legally in your jurisdiction, that is just the simple first step.

“That opens up the entire complexity of the dark web to you, which is a real concern.”

Simple searches of the dark web reveal why its relatively easy access is worrying forces up and down the country.

A hit man offering services out of Birmingham, an Ebay-styled site allowing bulk purchase of Paypal accounts, a lone-hacker promising ‘ruining’ services, all as easily accessible as the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

The hit show’s series five premiere in 2015 was preceded by a spike in illegal downloads worldwide and season seven is set for release on July 17.

Back in 2015 the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that dark web torrent sharing sites had the potential to be a ‘gateway’ for impressionable young people to get into crime, particularly as they have the potential to put recruiting gangs in touch with young computer whizzkids.

The NCA’s recent campaign seeks to dispel romantic notions of hacking and instead point talented young coders towards a life in police cyber crime departments or the video gaming industry.

In a recent development through, criminal gangs are now actively using the wide spread of hardcore pornography to recruit young ‘cyber mules’ in a sign that the ‘sextortion’ racket is branching out from social media platforms.

Organised outfits are increasingly using the advertiser-funded adult sites to blackmail users into funding their operations - or even joining them.

“Sextortion is one of those particularly pernicious areas,” said Mr Clifford.

“So you have pornography that is broadly available and a lot of those platforms are advertiser funded.

“The advertisers predominantly are organisations that, through various links, are involved in some really dodgy activity.

“The ads will say things like ‘hey want a live chat’. It looks like a video but what it is doing is depositing some code onto your computer which is taking over your web cam, turning it on and filming you...

“This is then relayed to the users themselves by saying ‘we know who you are and we will then share it with your friends, with your workplace, unless you pay us £50’.

“Once you have paid that £50 they will then sell your bank details on. It is very hard to stop being a victim.”

In many cases it is understood such schemes are looking to recruit cyber money mules who can then launder gangs’ ill-gotten gains by depositing Bitcoins, the most common dark web currency, in their accounts.

Mr Clifford said the biggest challenge facing police in terms of tackling such rackets is under-reporting

“That’s a big area,” he said. “That sort of crime, we just don’t know how big that number is.

“Some people will come forward but they are often ashamed of their actions.

“If you were faced with the option of paying 50 quid or going to tell the police about what has happened to you, many see the ransom as the easier option.”