Fighting with the dark web

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Fighting with the dark web

The author is a national team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In August 2020, the National Police Agency designated three drug investigation teams of local police agencies to specialize in investigating the dark web. As of October, it has been expanded to six local police agencies. The National Intelligence Service has also been running a response team dedicated to the dark web since last year to monitor the dark web and prepare for domestic and foreign hacking threats.

On Oct. 14, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office announced that it would establish a special investigation team for drug-related crimes at four district prosecutors’ offices to investigate online drug dealing through the dark web.

Lately, the dark web never fails to appear before investigative and intelligence agencies. The web is used for the various crimes of drug dealing, distribution of sexual exploitation materials of children, and hacking because anonymity is guaranteed and IP addresses are hard to trace.

The dark web has become widely used ever since an anonymous browser called Tor, or The Onion Router, was launched. As suggested by its name, the dark web address accessed through the Tor browser has the “.onion” form. As the access path goes through six encryption processes, Tor resembles the multiple layers of an onion.

Surprisingly, the technology behind Tor was developed by the U.S. government in the mid-1990s, as an anonymous network was needed to protect online communication between the military and government agencies. But if there was any trace of Tor being used in general sites, it could expose the identity of the U.S. government agencies that accessed it. Therefore, Tor was distributed to the public.

Illegal activities on the dark web emerged as a problem in 2013 when “Silk Road” — a famous dark web black market in the United States — was shut down. Another feature of the black market was that it allowed transactions only in Bitcoin instead of U.S. dollars. A combination of an anonymous browser and encrypted virtual assets led to the creation of a new type of crime.

The dark web does not fully guarantee anonymity, as an administrator can make a mistake. Son Jung-woo, 26, opened Welcome to Video, the world’s largest child sexual exploitation material site. Before the U.S. Department of Justice indicted Son for nine counts of charges, including the production, advertisement and distribution of child pornography, in October 2019, he had already been caught by the Korean police in May 2018. A source in the investigation team at the time said, “A thief has to be lucky all the time, but the police need to be lucky just once.” I hope our law enforcement agencies prove their confidence with outcomes.
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