Cybercrime. Identifying the Sources of Illegal Darknet Services

Essay, 2019

11 Pages, Grade: 80




The ‘Darknet’

Challenges faced by Law Enforcement



Illegal darknet services- Discuss challenges faced by law enforcement in identifying the criminal source.


Criminals who are currently living in today’s present world are at a benefit when compared to those who lived in the past. This mainly has to do with the Age of Technology that we find ourselves living in (Wexler, 2018). Society has evolved into a modern technological world, and this has made it rather effortless for individuals to find themselves involved with criminal activities. Even those individuals who never had any intentions of committing a crime are now being tempted to when they learn about how easy it has become, like for instance buying or selling illicit drugs (Europol, 2017; Wexler, 2018). Technological advances are constantly being made and although these advances have provided several benefits to society as a whole, at times, individuals use, abuse or exploit such advances for criminal intent (Button & Cross, 2017; Europol, 2017). As a matter of fact, one might say that nowadays technology has a dominant role in crime. Whereas before criminals used violence and weapons to commit crimes, today they can potentially commit a crime from the privacy and comfort of their own home (Wexler, 2018). There are various technological advances that play a role in a wide range of criminal activities, however the internet (or specifically the darknet) is definitely one of the most abused sources behind the newest variations of crime like for instance, cyberstalking, online child pornography and child exploitation (Cross, 2008; Europol, 2017; Gaines & Miller, 2019).

The ‘Darknet’

Technology has an important role in peoples’ life nowadays and so, it is more likely that individuals have a computer at home or another form of technological source, which can be used to connect to the internet. This massive presence of technological sources found in the everyday life of individuals is directly connected to the increase of online crime, what is referred to as cybercrime (Gaines & Miller, 2019).

The internet is made up of three layers, being: the internet; the deep web; and the darknet (Stevenson, n.d.). Although all of the layers seem interlinked, they are all different. When criminals commit illicit activities online, the probability is that they did it through the darknet (Ormsby, 2018). A lot of people have the wrong impressions about the darknet as they seem to think that it is only used for illicit activities. However, one should note that it is used by all kind of people, from the government to professional criminals, for many different reasons, both bad and good (Byrne & Kimball, 2017; Stevenson, n.d.). Considering that the darknet guarantees users with anonymity, sometimes individuals prefer browsing the internet in this manner since their identity remains a secret (Byrne & Kimball, 2017). Consequently, as is going to be discussed in detail further below, law enforcement finds it challenging to identify criminals within this criminal source.

This small fraction of the internet contains intentionally hidden, indexed content and it can only be accessed by using a special software, like The Onion Router (TOR), which would then allow users to gain access anonymously (Biagi, 2007; Chertoff & Simon, 2015; Paganini, 2016; Stevenson, n.d.). As a precaution, individuals who access the darknet would normally need to contribute before being able to use its services. This is done to ensure that both users of the darknet and service providers share mutual guilt and thus, neither one would want to report the site to law enforcements (Stevenson, n.d.).

Challenges faced by Law Enforcement

The aforementioned technological advances, particularly the darknet, have not only made it easier for potential offenders to engage in crimes; but have also made it harder and more challenging for law enforcements to handle and control such crimes, for various reasons (Marcella & Greenfield, 2002; Gaines & Miller, 2019).

First, not that long ago, criminals committed traditional crimes like for instance armed robberies, homicides and theft. These type of crimes had a clear focus, making them easier to punish by law; because they are known to have inflicted harm on either property or people. Additionally, criminals that committed these type of crimes were easier to detect and investigate because of the evidence they leave behind when on the crime scene (Wexler, 2018). On the contrary, crime committed through the darknet is not as easy to solve, and they can get rather complicated since the criminals are not always identifiable (Favignano, 2016). Nonetheless, old traditional crimes were less severe when compared to crimes committed through the darknet. This is because cybercrime has the power to inflict greater harm. In the old days, banks were robbed by entering the building with weapons and commencing hold-ups, today, criminals can just enter the bank’s system through their own personal computer and defraud their entire system. Nowadays, criminals have shifted from the old traditional crime to the more advanced cybercrime, due to the increase of criminal opportunities and potential victims; as well as having minimal chances of being caught (Baggili & Rogers, 2009; Britz, 2013). Several law enforcement experts argue upon the idea of cybercrime being just like old traditional crime yet it is committed through technology, for example cyber-stalking is just like the regular old stalking however it is committed online (Marcella & Greenfield, 2002; Chertoff & Simon, 2015; PGI, 2018).

According to various researchers, one of the most common reason why criminals have shifted from traditional crime to cybercrime is because of anonymity (Chertoff & Simon, 2015; Parliament, 2015; Favignano, 2016; Paganini, 2016; Lewis, n.d.). As mentioned earlier before, the darknet allows its user to conceal their identity, usage of the network, and their whereabouts, in simple terms remain anonymous while browsing, using and publishing on the internet (Krylova, 2019). This can be done through the use of Tor Hidden Services (THS) (Parliament, 2015). Consequently, this then possesses several challenges for law enforcements since they cannot identify the criminals (Lewis, n.d.). Amongst the various sophisticated anonymity systems that exist, the most common and biggest is The Onion Router, or in short TOR. The name evolved from the onion imagery; just as the onion has several layers which need to be peeled of before actually getting the onion, darknet users have several layers which need to be peeled of before their true identity is revealed (Parliament, 2015). And, if that is not enough to challenge the law enforcement, TOR also uses hidden servers which are only accessible by a second TOR address (Lewis, n.d.). Since, the darknet was specifically designed to guarantee anonymity, the content cannot be accessed by ordinary web browsers but rather with TOR servers only (Byrne & Kimball, 2017).

On that note, it is not impossible to de-anonymize TOR users. With the right resources and expertise, users can be identified. However, this is within itself a challenge for law enforcement, especially within the local context where both the required resources and expertise seem lacking (Parliament, 2015; Pulizija, n.d.). Paganini (2016), reported that “law enforcement bodies in many countries are still not in a position to deal effectively with the illegal activities … in the [darknet]” (para. 9). In order to be equipped with the right resources and expertise, one needs to keep up with the ongoing changes in technology and crime, which tend to be rather costly when compared to the old methods of investigations. Technology is evolving quickly, and so equipment would need to be updated frequently. Latest equipment can be rather pricey to buy and not all law enforcement can afford it (Wexler, 2018). Unfortunately, this then gives leverage to criminals as without the necessary resources and equipment the probability for the criminal source to be identified is very limited.

Another challenge faced by law enforcement when identifying illegal activities through the darknet relates to crypto-currencies, such as Bitcoin and Dash (Henderson, 2017; Furneaux, 2018). To further guarantee anonymity to its users, darknet services usually use crypto-currencies for transactions in order to secure and protect financial operations (Carolan, 2018; Krylova, 2019). Such currencies only exist through the internet and involve the use of virtual money rather than actual coins, cash or credit cards which then makes them incredibly hard to trace (Bradbury, 2019). Additionally, crypto-currencies are decentralized meaning that this form of payment does not have a central server connected to it but, it is rather distributed through a network made up of numerous other computers, from all over the world (King, 2019). This is one of the main reasons why it is extremely hard to trace. The main characteristic feature of crypto-currencies is that in order for individuals to use such currencies, they do not necessarily require any personal information about the user in order to be able to make transactions; apart from that they also operate independently of any central banks (King 2019; Krylova, 2019; Lewis, n.d.). This is definitely a major advantage for criminals as there is no way to link the financial transactions to the individual since they remain completely anonymous and untraceable, thus making it incredibly challenging for law enforcement to track them (Carolan, 2018).

Finally, encryption also plays a significant role when it comes to challenging law enforcement. Crypto-currencies used on the darknet, apart from being anonymous, also have their data in encrypted format. This is referred to as cryptography (Gayard, 2018; Friesland, 2019). For the data to become unencrypted, it requires a special code or encryption keys. This keeps other unwanted users from accessing the data (Friesland, 2019). Normally, it works by having a set of encryption keys, one is used by the user in order to encrypt the piece of information they send; while another decryption key belongs to the recipient in order to decrypt the received piece of information. This prevents third parties that do not have a decryption key, from accessing the message (Gayard, 2018). Furthermore, criminals could also use PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption programs whilst on the darknet. Such programs encrypt data to increase security amongst the users (Gayard, 2018). While the use of encryption remains an important feature for all kind of users while on the internet, specifically the darknet, so as to keep data secure and prevent any criminals from using sophisticated information (such as credit card details) for criminal intentions; this feature introduces law enforcement with serious limitations when it comes to the investigation, prosecution and detection of crime (Europol, 2017).


The number of old traditional crimes keep on falling everyday; on the other hand, the rates of cybercrime are continuously on the increase. It seems that criminals nowadays, prefer to commit online crime rather than traditional ones for various reasons which include, anonymity and security (Favignano, 2016; Wexler, 2018). New technology is continuously being invented with the aim of preventing crime. However, it appears that as new technologies arise so does new variations of crime. Criminals keep finding new methods of adapting to new technologies and finding ways of using such technologies for criminal purposes rather than the opposite (Wexler, 2018). One cannot argue that the darknet is by far the most abused source of the internet used by criminals since it provides many advantages for them, some of which being anonymity and encryption of data (Gaines & Miller, 2019; Stevenson, n.d.). Yet, these so called advantages are not portrayed in the same manner with law enforcement. This is because they pose challenges rather than benefits, when it comes to identifying the criminal source. Such challenges (discussed in depth above) include; the shift from old traditional crime to the new cybercrime, financial problems, anonymity of users, the use of crypto-currencies and encryption of data. The darknet has the power to host multiple criminal activities, from small scale (like for instance theft) to large scale (like for instance money-laundering) crimes (Europol, 2017). Although more awareness about the criminal source has been created, especially in the past recent years, more expertise and resources are required so as to be properly able to handle and deal with such crimes and criminals (Chertoff & Simon, 2015; Parliament, 2015; Paganini, 2016). There were many efforts and attempts made to try and shut down the darknet however, the high demand by users for the illegal services provided by it made it impossible to do so. Hence, instead of eliminating the source completely, law enforcement should focus their attention on trying to legalize its activities as much as possible.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Cybercrime. Identifying the Sources of Illegal Darknet Services
University of Malta  (Department of Criminology)
B.A. (Hons) Social Wellbeing Studies
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ISBN (eBook)
cybercrime, identifying, sources, illegal, darknet, services
Quote paper
Kimberley Bartolo (Author), 2019, Cybercrime. Identifying the Sources of Illegal Darknet Services, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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