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Security

The dark web’s biggest marketplace just got taken down

The dark web just got a little less dark: The biggest dark web marketplace in the world has been taken offline.

As reported by Bleeping Computer, due to a successful operation to seize its servers, German police were able to take down Hydra Market, a leading darknet platform that became popular by selling drugs, in addition to offering lucrative money-laundering services.

Digital Trends Graphic

For reference, the dark web can be utilized via the use of specific browsers and VPNs to access and purchase illegal services in the form of cybercrimes, such as fraud, identity theft, and malware programs.

When the services being sought involve drugs and money laundering in particular, though, the potential payout can lead to a financial windfall that generates billions of dollars. Case in point: Germany’s cybercrime and criminal police divisions stated that Hydra Market obtained around $1.35 billion in 2020 for its services.

The police also confirmed it discovered 543 bitcoins in Hydra’s possession. At current market rates, that’s around $25 million. Still, a small drop in the bucket compared to the $1 billion-plus it managed to make within a year.

Illustration of a woman putting a bitcoin into a piggy bank.
Taylor Frint/Digital Trends Graphic

Barring any other unknown marketplaces that have made even more, based on the amount of money it received, Hydra was the largest darknet market in the world when it was operating.

Furthermore, as highlighted by Engadget, if reports are to be believed, Hydra was responsible for about 80 percent of all cryptocurrency transactions performed on the dark web. Ultimately, the darknet marketplace had reportedly secured around $5.2 billion in crypto alone since 2015.

Although Hydra primarily offered drugs and money laundering services, it also sold stolen databases and forged documents. Furthermore, individuals could acquire access to its hacking for hire services as well.

The Hydra dark web marketplace was home to 19,000 registered seller accounts. In total, the customer base reached at least 17 million people, according to Bleeping Computer.

A spokesperson for the German authorities in charge of the operation confirmed to Bleeping Computer that no arrests have been made yet. As for an in-depth look at the systems and servers that were seized, such information cannot be shared at the moment due to ongoing investigations.

Crypto-related cybercrimes on the rise

Before Hydra, the biggest player in the dark web marketplace space was the infamous Silk Road, which was taken offline in 2013.

If it existed today and was able to evade authorities since its inception in 2011, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume the service would be generating countless billions in terms of turnover, especially because its bottom line would have been boosted by the emergence of crypto-related cyber crimes.

In 2021 alone, cryptocurrency crimes resulted in $1.6 billion being stolen from individuals.

Elsewhere, U.S. authorities made their own crypto-related seizure recently, which is said to be “one of the largest ever brought by the US involving cryptocurrencies.” According to Bitcoinist, the feds were able to obtain around $34 million in cryptocurrency from a Florida resident. He allegedly utilized the dark web to “sell Netflix, HBO, and Uber account information, among other popular services.”

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Categories
Security

Police arrest 150 suspects after closure of dark web’s largest illegal marketplace

A 10-month investigation following the closure of the dark web’s largest illegal marketplace, DarkMarket, has resulted in the arrest of 150 suspected drug vendors and buyers.

DarkMarket was taken offline earlier this year as part of an international operation. The site boasted some 500,000 users and facilitated around 320,000 transactions, reports the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, with clientele buying and selling everything from malware and stolen credit card information, to weapons and drugs. When German authorities arrested the site’s alleged operator in January this year, they also seized valuable evidence of transactions which led to this week’s arrest of key players.

According to the US Department of Justice and Europol, Operation Dark HunTor saw law enforcement make numerous arrests in the United States (65), Germany (47), the United Kingdom (24), Italy (4), the Netherlands (4), France, (3), Switzerland (2), and Bulgaria (1). More than $31.6 million in cash and cryptocurrencies were seized during the arrests, as well 45 firearms and roughly 234 kilograms of drugs including cocaine, opioids, amphetamine, MDMA, and fentanyl. According to the DoJ: “A number of investigations are still ongoing.”

As part of the operation, Italian authorities also shut down two other dark web marketplaces — DeepSea and Berlusconi — arresting four alleged administrators and seizing €3.6 million ($4.17 million) in cryptocurrency.

The operation was conducted across the US, Europe, and Australia.
Image: Europol

Although the dark web was once considered to be a relatively safe haven for those selling and buying drugs, international operations like Dark HunTor have seen regular arrests of suspects and speedy closure of marketplaces. The list of dark web markets closed just in recent years is extensive, including Dream, WallStreet, White House, DeepSea, and Dark Market. Although law enforcement certainly have to play Whac-A-Mole with such sites, with new markets springing up as soon as established ones are closed, doing so makes it harder for buyers and sellers to build steady businesses.

“The point of operations such as the one today is to put criminals operating on the dark web on notice: the law enforcement community has the means and global partnerships to unmask them and hold them accountable for their illegal activities, even in areas of the dark web,” said Europol’s Deputy Executive Director of Operations, Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, in a press statement.

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Tech News

NFT of web’s source code sells for $5.4M — but contains errors (lol)

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has sold an NFT of the original source code for the world wide web for an eye-watering $5.4 million, but the winning bidder could be in for an unpleasant surprise: a security researcher has spotted errors in the code.

Up front: The NFT market exploded in 2021, bagging artists and celebrities whopping sums for digital tokens that authenticate ownership of collectibles.

Berners-Lee hopped on the bandwagon amid signs that the bubble was about to burst. He auctioned off an NFT representing this bundle of items:

  • The original archive of dated and time-stamped files containing the source code
  • A Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) representation of the full code
  • A letter he wrote reflecting upon the code and his process of creating it
  • An animated visualization of the code being written

The winning bidder, however, may not be getting exactly what they expected: security researcher Mikko Hypponen spotted some errors in the code.

“Hold on…the www source that Sotheby is auctioning? The angle brackets are wrong!” he tweeted. “They’ve been — yes — HTML encoded from ‘< >’ to ‘&lt; &gt;’. Lol.”

Quick take: Hypponen found the errors in the animated visualization of the code.

“The NFT consists of multiple components, and the code seems to be fine everywhere else, but the video seems to have all special characters encoded,” Hypponen told TNW via email. “Such code would not work and could not be compiled. Who knows, such an error might make this thing even more collectible for collectors. ”

A developer suggested that the mistake was the result of using a web service to pretend to type the text seen in the video.

The enormous winning bid shows there’s still life left in the market. But it also further exposes what a weird market it is. Still, the NFT’s owner could find the error adds its own strange sense of value.

The NFT certainly isn’t worth $5.4 million to me — with or without buggy code. The owner will obviously prove me wrong if they resell it for a higher fee, but that’s hard for me to imagine — which might be why I’m writing about NFTs rather than investing fortunes in them. Regardless, I hope they enjoy their ludicrously expensive new certificate.

Update (2:30PM CET, July 1, 2021): Added comment from Mikko Hypponen.



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Tech News

Web’s daddy jumps aboard NFT hype train — but is he already too late?

The NFT bandwagon attracts a curious mix of passengers, from celebrity robots to convicted animal abusers.

The latest luminary to grab a ticket is British inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who’s auctioning off his original source code for the web as a non-fungible token.

[Read: Why entrepreneurship in emerging markets matters]

For those of you lucky enough to have missed the hype train, NFTs are unique digital tokens secured by blockchain tech.

They’re used to authenticate claims of ownership to digital and physical assets that can be sold or traded, such as digital artworks. The strange part (to me, at least), is they’re often verifying ownership of works that can be screengrabbed or downloaded in seconds.

They’ve nonetheless helped sellers rake in fortunes for their digital collectables — and Berners-Lee will hope to join them.

The NFT he’s auctioning includes his original time-stamped files for the WorldWideWeb browser; an animation of the code being written, a letter by Berners-Lee about his creation; and a digital poster of the code.

It’s a more attractive package than, say, a tweet by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and that bagged an eye-watering $2.9 million. Unfortunately for Berners-Lee, he may be jumping on the hype train a few stops too late.

A recent report by Protos suggests the NFT market has already imploded. According to data analyzed by the crypto news site, NFTs peaked on May 3, when $102 million worth of them were sold in just a day. But by June, the market had plunged by almost 90%.

New data analyzed by Nonfungible further substantiates claims that the bubble is bursting. The market tracker found that overall sales collapsed from a seven-day peak of $176 million on May 9 to $8.6 million on June 15.

Still, Berners-Lee has some grounds for optimism. His digital asset is a genuine historical artefact that’s eminently suited to the format.

As Berners-Lee puts it, NFTs are the “ideal way to package the origins behind the web.”

His “digital-native artefact” could attract some hefty bids from the tech-savvy community of NFT collectors — and he wouldn’t be the only one defying the market’s doomsayers.

Just last week, an NFT of Doge the dog sold for a cool $4 million. Surely the source code of the world wide web is worth more than a meme? We’ll find out when the bidding ends on June 30.

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Tech News

Spider legs build webs without the brain’s help — and could inspire robot limbs

Arachnophobes often cite spiders’ unpredictable movement as the basis of their fear, pointing out how each spindly leg seems to lift, flex, and probe with a menacing degree of autonomy.

Perhaps unsettlingly, research conducted by my colleagues and I has revealed that each one of a spider’s legs does indeed enjoy a certain independence from the brain – especially in the complex task of web-building.

Our study has shown that spider legs have “minds of their own,” constructing webs without the oversight of the spider’s brain. This has important implications for the field of robotics, which may take inspiration from this example of decentralized intelligence to build similarly autonomous robot limbs.

To arrive at our conclusions, we observed the common garden spider Araneus diadematus, a creature familiar to us all – both suspended in our backyards, and as the heroine within the pages of the children’s book Charlotte’s Web.

Web engineers

Spiders’ webs serve many functions. They provide a safe home, but they’re also famously an invisible and highly dynamic trap set up to capture and then firmly hold any insect that strays too close.

To perform this function, webs use a strong structural scaffold of radiating spokes with what’s called a “capture spiral” built on top, which is soft and sticky and uses an extremely clever microscopic reeling mechanism to pull in a spider’s prey.

Not only does the capture spiral use electrostatic charges to trap a fly, it features a complex glue to hold it firmly, and a specific elasticity that makes the web too stretchy for the leg of a hapless insect to push against in its struggle for freedom.

The analogy of the internet as a “web” is a fine one: because at least five different silks are used in a spider’s web, the way they intersect and network with one another creates a kind of information filtering capacity – with tiny vibrations noted at all times by a spider’s listening legs.

Spider diagram

Given the incredible complexity of spiders’ webs, we must ask how such a small animal – with an obviously minute brain – can design and build this advanced structure. Modern technology has helped us begin to understand how spiders manage such a complex task.

[Read: How Polestar is using blockchain to increase transparency]

By filming and tracking the movements of its eight legs, we have been able to track a spider’s web-building in intimate detail, revealing the construction process to be a kind of dance around a central hub, with a precise choreography of replicable rules.

These rules are surprisingly simple. Each step and thread manipulation follows a fixed action pattern, with one of the spider’s legs measuring an angle and a distance in order to place and then connect one thread to another with a quick dab of glue – always with impeccable accuracy and spacing. Many years ago, we programmed a virtual spider, named Theseus, to demonstrate how this works.

The apparent complexity of the structure is the result of a long sequence of thousands of small steps and actions, each building on the previous steps and actions. This iterative process invests the network with “emergent properties” – special properties that manifest as the result of different components working together – which in turn provide outstanding architectural and engineering functionality.

Outsourcing

The complexity of the task at hand (or rather foot) when building a web seems to have required spider brains to outsource the work to the eight legs. Put another way, spider legs build webs semi-autonomously – eight phantom limbs performing their dance within local, closed feedback loops.

We discovered this after studying spiders building webs within frames in our laboratory. In some experiments, we cut out threads of a web being built. In others, we rotated the web like a ferris wheel. This probing wasn’t done to annoy the spider: it was to help us discern the rules that govern web building.

With a set of rules established – including rules that help spiders continue to build a disrupted web – we taught them to Theseus, our virtual spider.

The new rules we taught Theseus – based on the dances of real spiders we observed in our lab – revealed that each leg actually conducts many web-building actions as an independent agent. This in turn helped us solve the mystery of how spiders build perfect webs after the loss of a leg.

When a spider’s leg becomes trapped, it’s discarded, and a shorter leg regenerates the next time the spider molts its exoskeleton. Not only is this replacement half the size of a normal leg, but it’s also a different shape, with different hairs and sensors. Yet somehow spiders with regenerated legs continue to build perfect webs.