Criminals try message apps to evade dark web crackdown
LONDON/TEL AVIV. – A police crackdown on dark web markets such as AlphaBay and Hansa is driving cyber criminals to use mobile messaging apps to locate anonymous new hideouts from which to operate, a report by security researchers published on Wednesday showed. A study by Israeli threat intelligence software firm IntSights shows a 30-fold increase in dark web activity using smartphone-based messaging apps over the past year.
Several hundred thousand users are estimated to be trading stolen credit cards, account credentials, malware, drugs or to share hacking tricks over the dark web, a portion of the internet that lies beyond the reach of search engines and where user activity is largely anonymous and untraceable.
Recruitment invitations into these underground markets have spiked upward over mainstream mobile messaging apps such as Facebook’s (FB.O) WhatsApp, Telegram and Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Skype, IntSight said.
But it is Discord, a lesser-known, two-year-old messaging app popular with video gamers, that is becoming the “go-to app” for mobile dark web discussions, where thousands of links into criminal forums were tallied up by IntSights, it said.
“Cyber crime is a commodity today: Anyone can do it,” said Alon Arvatz, IntSights’ co-founder and chief product officer, said during an interview at the Reuters Cyber Summit in Tel Aviv this week.
A spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Discord said the company had not seen the report but would consider responding once it had. WhatsApp was not immediately available to comment, while a Microsoft spokesman declined to comment. Telegram founder Pavel Durov did not respond to a request for comment.
“Today’s black market is accessible more than ever, with the tap of a finger over a portable pocket-held device,” the study said. “This could prove to cause a proliferation of low-level cybercrime, that is conducted by less qualified perpetrators”.
Traditional dark web markets required would-be users to know which sites to visit and how, using a special browser, all of which required no small amount of technical sophistication.
IntSights said hackers are turning to smaller, closed networks on social media and mobile messaging apps instead of traditionally open, moderated dark web forums because such groups can be easily set up, shut down and relocated via apps. – Reuters