Thursday, April 20, 2017

Europol Links Darknet Markets and Terrorism

Europol—via themselves, law enforcement, the private sector, or otherwise—continually made Bitcoin-related appearances over the last five years. And according to the most recent study that involved Bitcoin and illegal firearm trade, illegal firearm dealers moved to the darknet. Not just any firearm dealers (I.e., vendors), but organized crime vendors. Europol quietly pushed a connection between organized crime, the dark web, Bitcoin, and terrorism for years and they finally moved one step closer to a day where that proposed connection gets announced.

Their latest publication, the 2017 European Union Serious Organized Crime Threat Assessment may have taken things more than a single step closer. Europol struggled, in some way and at inconsistent times, with Bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general. The SOCTA or Serious Organized Crime Threat Assessment, covered the obvious: organized crime. Not all, but many of the publications issued by Europol involved organized crime in conjunction with Bitcoin.

DeepDotWeb published numerous articles over the years where authors followed the law enforcement support group’s publications. The Bitcoin, money laundering and deep web ones especially. For instance, after the late bombings in France, Europol published Changes In Modus Operandi of Islamic State Terrorist Attacks. Mind you, this was amidst the rumors that terriers did, in fact, use Bitcoin as a means of funding, thanks to the pseudo-anonymity provided. And in a previous document, the “2014 iOCTA,” Europol outlined the different ways an identity could be masked via Bitcoin tumblers and specifications referred to some by name.

This study, the 2016 SOCTA lined up with Europol’s latest decisions, to a degree. Shortly after the announcement that Bitcoin played no known role in terrorist financing or money laundering, they teamed up with the law enforcement agency INTERPOL and the Basel Institute on Governance. They teamed up and prepared a fight against Bitcoin-supported money laundering by organized crime and terrorist groups.

Europol claimed to own evidence of these activities. Unfortunately, they never released it—possibly for operational purposes. The press release quite literally announced that “there is a clear consensus that digital currencies pose a money laundering and terrorism financing threat.” They also lost 700 pages of terrorist data and we covered that too.

Fast forward through a few publications and events regarding Bitcoin, money laundering, and the dark web, and we land at the 2017 SOCTA. The document revealed the current state of the EU with respect to terrorism in all forms and—both new and old. Real, classic, and “usual” examples filled the pages that lacked graphics. Violence, extortion, stereotypical organized crime activities, etc. However, this year, according to Europol, a real change occurred in the cybersecurity or digital sector.

And expectedly, based on an emphasizing on terrorist money laundering, Bitcoin received a full profile and explanation. However, while not particularly out of place, Europol used Bitcoin as a segue into the dark web. They mentioned the dark web in the past, but nothing when compared to pages in the 2017 report. It covered nearly every aspect possible with respect to the dark web and darknet marketplaces. Drugs sold, trafficking routes, top vendors dominating the market.

The publication also detailed various activities that took place where the sun never shines. One such example falls into the child exploitation category. The number of known sites that host or hosted child exploitation content was relatively small in contrast to the dark web in its entirety. But even one instance is too many.

Europol continued to the firearm section of the publication. “The proliferation and availability of illegal firearms in the EU States increase the risk of their use by terrorist groups,” Europol wrote. They explained that firearms are “frequently traded on platforms including Darknet marketplaces.” The increase in availability to individuals and organized crime “has resulted in a significant increase in the use of parcel and postal services to traffic firearms and firearm components.”

Online gun trade will only grow worse, Europol explained:
“Online trade allows individuals with no or limited connections to organised crime to procure firearms. These individual criminal actors increasingly engage in the trafficking of firearms and firearm components as part of a Caas business model and have emerged as key distributors of illegal firearms in the EU. The online trade in illegal firearms via various platforms ls set to expand further over the coming years.”

And Europol even had an example to verify that the claims they made reflected the truth.

“In December 2016, Slovenian law enforcement authorities, with the support of Europol, arrested two suspects accused of selling various live firing weapons including automatic rifles, hand and smoke grenades as well as ammunition via

a prominent Darknet marketplace. The firearms were paid for in Bitcoin.”There, the Bitcoin connection to firearms and weapon violence substantiated. Furthermore, the link between organized crime and terrorism finally carried—at the very least—a theory. Depending on where or who or how seriously this publication is taken by law-making officials, this could readily in a crackdown similar to the one promised and subsequently delivered by the German Federal Police.

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