Researchers at Trend Micro have released a paper examining cybercrime in the darkest layers of the Internet, the so-called Deep Web.
Also known as the invisible web, the deeper web refers to the portion of the Web that is indexed by search engines like Google. Using darknets – networks that offer anonymous access to Web content – cybercriminals often seek to stay below the radar. While The Onion Router (TOR) is most associated with the deep web, there are several other networks that offer anonymity as well, such as freenet and I2P.
“The deepweb, particularly darknets such as TOR, represents a viable way for malicious actors to exchange goods, legally or illegally, in an anonymous fashion,” the paper notes.
“Our findings suggest that, at present, the main network that shows commercial activities for cybercriminals is TOR. While the deepweb has proven to be very functional for hosting botnets’ command-and-control (C&C) servers and trading merchandise such as drugs and weapons, traditional cybercrime goods (i.e., malware and exploit kits) were less popular.”
According to Trend Micro, the prices for illegal goods and services vary greatly between the visible and invisible web. For example, credit cards cost an average of $23.70 on Russian underground forums accessible over the Internet without darknet software or a rogue TLD DNS server, but $68.80 on TOR sites. In addition, more stolen accounts and account information are sold in Russian underground forums than on TOR sites although their prices seem comparable (US$126 for a US$1,000 account in TOR sites versus US$100 for a US$1,000–2,000 account in underground forums).
“Somehow, being untraceable presents drawbacks for a seller who cannot easily establish a trust relationship with customers unless the marketplace allows for it,” according to the report. “However, the lack of observable activities in unconventional deepweb networks does not necessarily mean an actual lack of such.”
“In fact, in agreement with the principle inspiring the deepweb, the activities are simply more difficult to spot and observe,” the paper notes. “Note that since a driving factor for marketplaces is critical mass, it is quite unlikely for them to long for such a high level of stealth unless the consequence, should they be discovered, is sufficiently severe (e.g., child exploitation imagery). In such cases, sites may only come online at specific times, have a brief window of trading, then disappear again, making them more difficult to investigate.”
The paper can be read here.