Today, cybercrime has become a real shadow economy. There is no secret that one can buy everything via the Internet – from stolen credit card data to malicious code to infect victims’ computers. The website where one can find illicit goods is called the shadow dark-net market. Such resources are not displayed in Google or Bing, but they are not difficult to find. In recent years, these markets have evolved significantly, thus contributing to cybercrime growth.

Modern shadow markets have ratings of goods and buyers, customer reviews, guarantees. The products are offered in easy-to-navigate stores that make it easier to search for products, turning it into a kind of Amazon or eBay for cybercriminals.

Payment for illegal goods are in Bitcoin

Talking about modern shadow markets is primarily needed to raise the awareness of governments, companies and individuals about the scale of the cybercrime problem. Besides, the demonstration of websites that buy and sell stolen data and criminal tools helps to understand this issue’s importance, especially when users see the professionalism of these pages.

The goods in such markets include malicious codes for crimes (e.g. information and cryptocurrency theft, keyboard fixing, cryptocurrency mining) and extortionate and other harmful programs.

Buyers pay for illegal goods in a cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. Payments are made often on the conditional deposit principle, which suggests a transaction confirmation by a buyer. On such resources one can see help buttons, answers to frequently asked questions and support settings; sometimes there is even a Live Chat. In addition, there are many ways to restrict search with filters.

Among the criminal resources are those that sell different categories of prohibited goods, and those that specialise in certain activities, such as the sale of data on stolen payment cards. On such sites, you can often find not only information about credit cards but also credentials to log in to eBay, PayPal and Amazon.

There are also holiday promotions

Cyberattack CrimiaIt is known that online trade of stolen payment card data and other illegal items is far from new. However, the specific feature of today’s shadow markets is the use of technologies of legitimate Internet companies – from customer feedback and branding to marketing. Cybercriminals place online advertisements with special offers of harmful tools and other illegal goods. However, such ads can be found on the Internet.

This approach to cybercrime qualifies as a “new generation” because it transforms underground activity into an affordable business model. Such new criminal activity seems to be thriving, although it is fundamentally unethical and poses a grave threat to human progress.

Besides, complicity in criminal activity seems to be a legitimate business proposal and is perceived that way in some countries. And the efforts to reduce the negative impact of cybercrime on society will be ineffective until governments resolve this issue.

Who fights against it?

It is noteworthy that law enforcement agencies already have a successful experience in combating this problem. In particular, the FBI conducted an operation called “Operation Card Shop,” which began in 2010 and resulted in 26 arrests. Agents created a fake card information forum called CarderProfit to “identify users who bought and sold stolen card accounts and merchandise.” Then in 2013, a joint FBI-IRS operation uncovered a shadow market called Silk Road. The site sold drugs and weapons, as well as malware and payment cards, and its creators are serving prison sentences now.

Although harsh sentences can deter some potential criminals, the chances of solving crimes in cyberspace are believed to be slim. The way to improve the situation is to increase the crime detection rate and bring criminals to justice faster. After all, according to criminologists, speedy justice is a much better deterrent than harsh sentences.

Besides raising awareness of the scale of the cybercrime issue, users need to know about the dangers of entering these markets. After reporting a data leak (such as from Marriott last week), users are interested in the future of their data. In many cases, information is sold in shadow markets. And many people want to visit criminal resources to find information about themselves first of all.

Despite the availability of instructions on the Internet on how to enter the shadow markets, it is better not to go there on your own. Generally, the further you move away from secure websites, the greater the risk that you may face many dangers, from unwanted content to malware. Websites that sell illegal goods may also be monitored by law enforcement officials, for whom your “I’m just curious” testimony won’t be convincing.

If you do not understand security basis and know about tunnelling and virtual private networks (VPNs) technologies, it’s better to refrain from visiting websites selling stolen data or malware.

Stolen access

In conclusion, it is worth talking about another popular product in the underground markets, namely – stolen servers, which is a kind of “cybercrime infrastructure.. In particular, in the shadow market, you can buy remote access to a system that belongs to another user.

Cyberattack UkraineOperators in this market disclaim responsibility for the buyer’s further actions with the purchased product.  However, many sellers in the market have obtained unauthorized remote access credentials to victims’ systems. Such machines can be used when creating accounts in online banks, shops, payment systems, etc. Or they can be used by cybercriminals to send spam and set up pages for phishing emails.

Besides, stolen systems can be applied to run malware to recover passwords and cryptocurrency mining programs. One can also easily steal any information from the machine to which the buyer has acquired access, or encrypt it with extortion software.

While modern shadow markets are more and more accessible and developed, such criminal activity in one form or another has continued for most of this century. And while the problem of the thriving of crime in cyberspace remains unresolved, it is necessary, first of all, to pay special attention to raising awareness about modern malware and ways to protect against them. For their side, security vendors must continually improve solutions regularly to protect users from cyber threats. After all, only joint efforts can build a safer digital world in which information technology will be applied only advantageously and just for the benefit of mankind.


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