How open source intelligence reveals the hidden dangers of the dark web?

The dark web is an absolutely vital source for generating high-quality intelligence that can be used for a variety of critical purposes. However, it is also a source that is often overlooked by intelligence and security services.

While anonymity is vaguely visible in these obscure online areas, cracks will eventually appear in almost any system. In this environment, open source intelligence solutions stand out as important tools for revealing the hidden dangers of the dark web, transforming investigations in different areas from law enforcement to enterprise security. Here are some examples.

1. Combating illicit trade

As the most important platform for conducting illegal trade, dark web marketplaces are obviously the online areas where investigators need to look for various contraband vendors. However, as criminals carefully hide their activities behind layers of anonymization methods, open source intelligence tools are beginning to be employed to overcome dark web barriers.

While PGP encryption is very reliable, humans are certainly not. All it takes is a small misstep and a strong castle of anonymity is gone. The advanced automated search methods of open source intelligence solutions are not only able to find such cracks in the encryption armor; they can also perform extensive searches to link dark web activity to accounts on the Surface Web and identify users.

The de-anonymization of Silk Road, the infamous dark web drug market, is a good example of the effectiveness of such techniques. After finding links between PGP keys, email addresses and Reddit accounts, investigators turned to the platform to obtain user information such as log files and IP addresses. The data led to the identity of Silk Road's chief administrator and the shutdown of the marketplace.

2. Combating data breaches

Leaked corporate and government data is a valuable commodity that is widely circulated on the dark web. According to CSO Spotlight, 60 percent of dark web content is potentially harmful to organizations. This stems from a range of threats, including cyber espionage against confidential data, critical infrastructure outages caused by cyber attacks, and botnet-enabled malware or ransomware deployments.

With the ability to continuously monitor paste sites, discussion boards and marketplaces on the deep and dark web, open source intelligence tools enable security teams to quickly identify and contain data breaches, thereby avoiding huge costs. In addition, novel malware and attack tactics discovered on the Dark Web can continuously inform threat intelligence to more accurately predict, mitigate and investigate future breaches.

3. Countering Extremism

Extremism, which poses a significant threat to national security and society at large, is a serious problem that takes many forms and is often fueled by the dark web. Dangerous radical sects such as al-Qaeda and domestic far-right extremist groups use the anonymity of the dark web to spread propaganda, seek financing, recruit new members, procure weapons, and even plan attacks.

Modern open source intelligence solutions have a range of capabilities that enable analysts to draw a truly comprehensive picture of a given group's structure. By combining tracked cryptocurrency routes, inter-domain account identification, geolocation, and various communications and interactions, investigators can identify and disassemble dangerous groups while pre-empting and avoiding potential terrorist acts.

Despite its reputation for anonymity and secrecy, the Dark Web is not as obscure as it is often believed to be. By leveraging open source intelligence technologies, analysts and investigators from all sectors can understand Dark Web activities and participants to gain critical insights, transform cases, and accelerate workflows.