A leading cyber security expert has said the jailing of an “internet highwayman” paedophile for 32 years shows that the dark web does not provide the “cloak of invulnerability” that many criminals believe it does.
Gary Broadfield, solicitor and head of cybercrime at Manchester-based Cartwright King Solicitors, was speaking after Cambridge graduate Matthew Falder, 29, was locked up for blackmailing victims and sharing abuse tips and images on the dark web.
There are many legitimate uses of the dark web but it has also acted as a magnet for criminal activity because it helps users stay anonymous.
Broadfield specialises in cybercrime cases involving hacking and the dark web, including matters related to drug and assassination marketplaces.
Perverted Falder never physically met his victims, instead blackmailing them over the internet. He tricked many into sending naked images of themselves by posing as a female artist seeking photos to turn into life drawings.
Speaking after Falder’s jailing, Broadfield (pictured below) told BusinessCloud: “I think it is further evidence that the idea that use of the dark web does not provide the cloak of invulnerability that many criminals believe it does. Even the most skilful antagonist is likely to slip up eventually, particularly when they use sites and interact with their co-conspirators over a period of years.
“Often they will make mistakes in the early part of their career that come back to haunt them later. This could be because they haven’t developed the skills yet, or because they are not yet hardened criminals and don’t yet perceive the need for high levels of security.
“It could simply be that they are not as clever as they think they are. Either way, once those mistakes are made, the vital evidence will stay online where investigators can discover and use it many years later.
“Law enforcement agencies are becoming more adept at finding dark net criminals and prosecuting them. This is no mean feat: not only are there technological challenges, there are issues regarding co-operation between authorities in multiple jurisdictions and legal rules over, for example, the admissibility of evidence to be overcome in order for a prosecution to be successful.
“However, I think that through necessity the investigations into the dark web focus on the biggest and most successful sites and criminals. My fear is that in future law enforcement could be swamped by huge numbers of low level crimes using the dark web as the technology becomes more widely available and understood.”
Darknet websites are accessible through networks such as TOR, which stands for The Onion Router.
Explaining how the technology works, Broadfield said: “TOR enables individuals to anonymous access to ‘normal’ websites, but also allows the hosting of sites on the TOR network that can only be accessed using the TOR browser.
“In that scenario, it isn’t just the browser that is anonymous, but in theory the location of the website cannot be identified either. It is those ‘hidden services’ which are problematic as websites hosted in this way may well host or provide access to illicit or illegal services.”
TOR was originally developed by the US Navy in the 1990s for legitimate uses and there have been public interest uses for it, such as protecting the identify of whistleblowers.
Broadfield said although the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime teams were relatively well resourced, the size of the problem was so huge more needed to be done.
He added: “The public could be better educated about the risks of the dark web, and in particular that the idea of impunity and total anonymity is a myth. I think that would deter many people from getting involved.
“I also think that more could be done to understand those who commit online crime and why they do it. For example, it may be that with better community mental health services, many of the young men who end up engaged in online crime could be deterred from doing so long before they become a criminal justice problem.”