This Week: Hacking for Harambe and Safer Drugs On The Dark Web

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Our reaction when someone says decryption keys will only be used in "relevant" cases.
August 26, 2016

The Terbium Analyst Team is on the front-line of combatting dark web myths and legends. Whether it's a threat report, white paper, or blog post, the Analyst Team's job is to know things and speak intelligently about them. Other interests include weightlifting, chocolate, and accumulating obscure dark web trivia to amuse and confuse our co-workers.

This week we saw multiple countries requesting decryption keys to help gather evidence for ongoing investigations.  Reflecting back on Apple vs the FBI, there are a lot of concerns for customers and organizations when it comes to allowing law enforcement into our personal devices. By creating a backdoor for law enforcement, a backdoor is also open to criminals. For the cautious consumer, backdoors into apps raise concerns that their information could also be compromised, or ultimately leaked on the dark web.

Speaking of the dark web, drugs were a hot topic for the week. Researchers have been looking into how the dark web functions and trying to learn more about the drug markets. Dark web drug markets have also piqued the interest of journalists. Independent of each other, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), and a researcher from National Geographic decided to gather intelligence on dark web drug markets. This more academic approach to the dark web helps bring awareness to its existence, but the fear of actually “entering the dark web” is still apparent in their investigations.

Let me in!

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wants to pass laws forcing companies to reveal decryption keys to law enforcement agents when they are relevant to a case. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Joe Oliver spoke at a press conference pointing out that criminals can use the anonymity of the internet to their advantage. There are currently no laws that outline how law enforcement can demand passwords or decryption codes from a suspect. While the lack of access makes things difficult for law enforcement, many companies are opposed to letting law enforcement gain relatively unlimited access into their customers’ technology when a case becomes “relevant”. Backdoor access also increases the chances of a data breach – just because the police intend to use the decryption keys for specific use cases doesn’t mean that other actors are going to be quite as picky.

France and Germany are pushing for new legislation for mobile messaging companies to provide backdoor access to their apps. This legislation would require app developers to provide access to encrypted messages at the request of law enforcement. The desire for decrypted messages comes in the wake of terror attacks in both countries, where law enforcement officials are trying to develop new operating procedures to tackle increasing usage of encrypted messaging services. Terrorist organizations are reportedly using end-to-end encryption apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to communicate their plans with each other, which puts law enforcement organizations behind a concrete wall. Realistically, even if decryption laws pass, information leaks from legal conversations will become a larger problem, and illegal activity will likely adapt and live on through a different platform.

Meanwhile: DNMs are getting attention

Dark web markets are becoming increasingly popular, and researchers are paying attention. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reports that dark web market usage is becoming more popular as drug quality continues to improve. The EMCDDA also noted that higher levels of security and a system of vendor and product reviews have promoted safer drug use. The dark web markets rely heavily on reputation. Your product is only as good, and only as in demand, as others in the community build it up to be.

Dark web markets have also piqued the interest of a researcher from National Geographic, who posted anonymously on multiple dark web market and drug forums asking questions about MDMA, one of the top three drugs sold on the dark web. The researcher is focusing on harm reduction, and how the supply chain - which has increasingly involved the dark web - can sustain safe drug use. While some users answered the researcher’s questions honestly, many more were hostile towards the outsider, and skeptical of the researcher’s credentials. These sorts of reactions shed light on why journalists and researchers are reluctant to explore the dark web and its communities, though these research efforts are a step in the right direction toward a broader, better understanding of the dark web communities.

One more thing

Hackers attacked the Cincinnati Zoo’s official Twitter to “avenge” the death of Harambe, the gorilla who was killed when a child found his way into Harambe’s enclosure. The cyber gang Poodlecorp, current favorites for the job, changed the Cincinnati Zoo’s account’s profile picture to a photo of Harambe. After being overwhelmed by the online harassment about Harambe, the Zoo elected to shut down its Twitter page for the time being.

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