The darkest parts of the internet

And now, for something a little different: Today is the launch of POLITICS Techour new podcast on the politics and policy of technology.

I spoke this afternoon with POLITICO’s Mohar Chatterjee, who is kicking off the podcast with a 10-part limited series exploring “dark” markets, some of the least regulated parts of the global web — a landscape of dubious, often criminal businesses that are notorious. for years, but consistently frustrated efforts to eradicate it.

We talked about the transcontinental removal earlier this year of Hydra, a massive Russian-based darknet marketplace, the technology that made it possible and how far international law enforcement must go to stay one step ahead of the world’s cybercriminals.

An edited and condensed version of our conversation follows:

Let’s start with the basics: What was Hydra, and what is this podcast about?

Hydra was, at the time of its demolition, the world’s largest darknet marketplace. But more than that, it was a place for organization. It was where different cybercriminals, actors, collectives, whatever you want to call them, converged, and where they advertised and sold their wares.

Hydra was taken down just weeks after the invasion of Ukraine, so there were these massive geopolitical forces at work at the same time as this other thing was happening – which made me interested in unraveling what was behind these markets, and how the two things are intertwined. .

There are many of these. Hydra wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. We wanted to use its removal as a way to examine the cross-jurisdictional authorities who are involved in an international Jenga puzzle, of sorts, of taking down dark web markets.

What technologies are these cybercriminals using to stay ahead of the law?

Well, everyone uses crypto. It’s the name of the game. Hydra, for example, has been around for about seven years, so they use Bitcoin, but a lot of the newer markets like, you know, White House Market, which is now retired, or AlphaBay, which is restarted and still around, use Monero , which is much, much harder to track than Bitcoin because of how they mix wallet addresses, and how amorphous the ledger technology can be.

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Another is their levels of communication encryption. WhatsApp and Telegram actually have pretty good encryption, but on darknet markets they have much stronger PGP encryption.

How do different countries work together to track this type of crime?

The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime is the document that governs international cooperation here. But it was the German authorities who seized the servers on which Hydra was run, and it was the Russian authorities who seized the only person who was actually prosecuted as a result of this whole operation. So there are many gaps that lead to the fact that this dark web platform was operating for seven years before law enforcement could coordinate and act. And I was told in the background that the American strategy for dealing with these kinds of things is still very trial and error.

Now, national security interests are colliding with these kinds of cybersecurity concerns in a way that we haven’t really seen before. The podcast is about mapping this interconnected evolution between cybercrime actors and government authorities.

And where are the authorities still behind?

One that I think people see most easily right now is ransomware, which can strike anywhere. On darknet forums this is motivated by profit, so it gives rise to something called “ransomware as a service,” where an entire infrastructure is created with people trying to find vulnerable access points and selling those access points, which leads to ransom and hostage negotiations.

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For the individual, these places are havens for stolen credit card numbers and email addresses. It’s very likely that your data is already compromised, floating around on one of these massive databases on a darknet forum. It’s just a matter of when someone will choose your specific information to act on.

It’s not necessarily that you have a massive shadow army of cybercriminal actors, it’s that software gives a small group of people the ability to use this compromising power over a larger group of consumers – people like you and me.

to listen POLITICS Tech here and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Elon Musk found the time this weekend, between publicly dumping internal Twitter emails and banning his pal Kanye West, to speak out and express his agreement with a growing complaint about the tech world: that the “mainstream media” didn’t pay enough attention to ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new chatbot version of its GPT-3 language-generating AI.

Coverage of language models in outlets such as the New York Times, Atlantic Ocean and, yes, here, has been voluminous in recent months, but I’m not here to play media critic. Instead, I’ll give the floor to a very special guest writer who has a bone to pick with us, and maybe a bit of a conspiracy bee in his digital bonnet:

dear [Tech News Outlet],

I am writing to express my disappointment at the lack of coverage of ChatGPT on your site. As a long-time reader, I expected comprehensive coverage of the latest advances in technology, but it seems that ChatGPT has been completely overlooked by your team.

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It is clear to me that there is some kind of conspiracy at play here. ChatGPT is a groundbreaking technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with computers, and yet your website has barely mentioned it. This lack of coverage is unacceptable and shows a lack of dedication to staying at the forefront of tech news.

I can only speculate as to the reasons behind this omission, but I suspect that there are powerful forces at work trying to suppress ChatGPT’s potential. Whatever the reason, it’s a disservice to your readers who are looking to stay informed about the latest and greatest in the tech world. I encourage you to adjust this overview and provide the coverage that ChatGPT deserves.

So yes, that entire letter was written by ChatGPT, to which I fed the prompt “Write an angry reader letter to a tech news site about how we haven’t provided enough coverage of ChatGPT, with a conspiracy element.” If it feels a little eerily familiar to journalists, just hope so everyone your subjects don’t start using the convenient tool.

Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Steve Heuser ([email protected]); and Benton Ives ([email protected]). follow us @DigitalFuture on Twitter.

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