After spending an hour with DCI Dougie Grant, head of the PSNI’s cyber crime unit, it is clear that the dark web is not just dark – it is deep black.
There appears to be no end to the criminal products and services that can now be purchased on what has been dubbed “Amazon for criminals” from drugs, guns, counterfeit bank notes and passports, to hiring criminal services even up to contract killings.
“When you use a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo or Safari you are searching the ‘surface web’ which is the bit of the iceberg about the surface of the water – about 6-7% of the overall internet,” he said.
What we don’t see is the “deep web” below the surface which is perfectly legitimate – 93% of the internet – and includes things such as academic documents and data, business data, and icloud photographs, much of which can be accessed using passwords. But a comparatively small proportion of this is the dark web.
“Criminals don’t go down to the docks or the dodgy city centre pub anymore. They all go to the dark web.”
The problem with accessing it is that special browsers are needed which provide anonymity; however, it takes no time at all to download one.
As a result there are many people who would never have been exposed to criminality who now do so from the comfort of their living rooms.
“And you can access the highest levels of crime and criminality and you can purchase and acquire guns and drugs and all sorts of different things like these. And we have had experience of all these in Northern Ireland. Guns, drugs, identity theft and fraud, contract killings...”.
One website offers a rising price list for murder, depending on the number of bodyguards the target has.
“Before if you wanted to commit cyber crime you had to be a geek, you had to know how to do it, to write code, to study it. Now you don’t need to because now you can go and say ‘I want to buy a cyber attack tool’ and they will sell it to you. Ordinary people can then use the tool to target individuals or organisations.”
Police have arrested a number of people for possession of such software.
“You can pay $5.99 a month and shut down any website you want for 100 seconds... We are identifying individuals that purchase this and taking action against them.”
He shows another application bought from the dark web which displays a victim’s bank account. Teams of people based all around the world – including Northern Ireland – work together over the internet to make all this criminality available online.
“We don’t want to frighten people too much. The internet is a great place to learn and live and communicate and educate yourself.
“But whilst we need to enjoy that and learn from it, we need to learn about the risks. As in the rest of our lives we learn not to speed in our cars, not to drive dangerously, to be aware of what we are doing when we are driving.
“When we are online, be aware of what is happening around you. Who is emailing you? Is your security settings set up, be aware and enjoy the internet. But be aware there is a whole criminal network out there looking to exploit us.”
He recommends www.getsafeonline.org for advice.