February 25, 2021 – Tactical Rabbit, led by Everett Stern, is a private intelligence agency that provides consumers with actionable business insights. Tactical Rabbit reviews a case study investigation into the launch of TOR in 2002 and how they turned the dark web into a safe haven for criminals to perform their illicit activities with easy access. As drug traffickers use it for drug transactions and terrorist groups use it for financing, recruiting and communication, the open-source access of the dark web will continue to present specific challenges.
The dark web allows criminals and terrorists, with complete anonymity, to commit illicit activities online. The dark web is officially defined as “the portion of the Internet that is deliberately hidden from search engines, uses masked IP addresses, and can only be accessed with a special web browser.”1 It is an Internet network in layman’s terms where users are untraceable and content is uncensored. Many sources trace the concept of the dark web back to some U.S. Department of Defense developments in the 1960s and 1990s. Yet, until the creation of TOR in 2002, anonymous online browsing for criminals did not find a home.
The most infamous dark Web browser is TOR, which stands for The Onion Router. It derives its name from the principle of “onion routing”-layering Internet traffic via multiple encrypted servers. TOR is an open-source browser, meaning it can be accessed in seconds by anyone with Internet access. Although the developers of TOR originally made the browser escape government censorship, it became a haven for illicit activities. For example, terrorists use dark web browsers such as TOR to “plot future attacks, raise funds and hire new supporters. The uncensored network of TOR also hosts markets for stolen credit cards, false IDs, drugs, unregistered guns, hitmen, and child pornography.
Given the material it hosts, it is no surprise that browsing TOR can be hazardous. It is a network full of malware and scams that, with one wrong click, can easily exploit your personal information. Malware alone, however, is not what renders TOR harmful. Tactical Rabbit says the open-source access to TOR makes it unsafe. The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) noted that amid international restrictions, free browsers like TOR allow Al-Qaeda to continue operating online. The dominant currency on the dark web, drug traffickers, terrorists, and child abusers can buy illicit goods in a matter of minutes as long as they have TOR and bitcoin due to its easy access, dark web activity will continue to be a threat.
In order to counter these threats, law enforcement agencies control dark websites. FBI Operation Disarray arrested hundreds of suspects in 2018 based on dark web drug transactions. More recently, FBI Operation Disruptor arrested a community in Southern California that completed more than 18,000 purchases of dark web drugs. Although these accomplishments illustrate that law enforcement authorities can track the dark web, still difficult to do so.
The scale of illicit Dark Web activity is one explanation for this. Terrorist groups alone hosted more than 50,000 websites and 300 forums on the dark web in 2011. The NSA started putting anyone who downloaded TOR on a watchlist in 2014 to tackle this problem. Nevertheless, onion routing makes it difficult to trace all illegal activity happening in this space effectively. Tactical Rabbit agrees that continuous research and development on methods for tracking the dark web is essential to national security.
The team of former CIA and FBI operatives from Tactical Rabbit has the tradecraft and know-how to conduct dark web investigations. Tactical Rabbit does not, by TOR or other dark web browsers, condone illegal activity. It is not, however, actually illegal to simply access and search the dark web. Legitimate uses for the dark web exist, such as submitting anonymous tips to the CIA. A few best practices to defend yourself if you are tasked with an inquiry on the dark web are the following:
- Use a VPN-When using TOR, there is always a danger of being tracked, so you need to use a VPN.
- Installing others lets the operation stand out on the dark web by only using plugins already on the TOR browser.
- Click the “new identity” tab regularly. This erases the activity of your session, so you are not tracked from one place to another.
- Never use TOR in full screen mode. Doing so leaves a special “fingerprint” screen resolution that can be used to control your computer.
- Encrypted websites have a green lock to the left of their URL, ensuring the websites you access are encrypted.
- Do not use any personal accounts or address the Dark Web with any personal information.
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