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La Plata County Electronic Crime Officers Targets the Dark Web

Specialized electronic crime detective Josh Newman of the Durango Herald Police Department browses through darknet websites—a collection of websites on an encrypted network of which illegal activities and trades such sale of illicit firearms, drugs, stolen credit cards and child pornography take place online.

“If you can dream it up, it’s here, on the dark web,” said Detective Newman. “The so-called internet is so wide, that what we cover is only less than five percent.”

Josh Newman and Beyer Suess of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office are both specialized in electronic and digital forensics crime. Part of their responsibilities is policing the dark web as detectives, a job that Newman says is a hard task. “In most cases, you only get to be sure someone is, in fact, dealing on the dark web after seizing their computer or their phones on search warrants and get to see if they have been using certain browsers such as ‘Tor’ on the dark web.”

Over 95 percent of the content on the World Wide Web is exclusively accessible through special tools. This includes the dark web and the deep web– yet another subset of the internet that is not indexed however not similar to the dark web. It is simply all the data hidden behind the firewall which includes web archives, databases, and protected websites. The sensibly infamous dark web is occasionally misunderstood and the extent of what can be accessed through it is miscalculated.

“There is no question about it. There is no shortage of dark web crimes globally. It is very easy to conduct illegal activities on the dark web and still remain untraceable,” Newman admitted. “The shortage we have is in resources and funding which means we are limited to what we can do and hence not all crimes can be investigated,” he added.

Locally, Newman and Beyer are only officers who are capable of doing most of the digital forensics. “The equipment involved is quite expensive and the training even more expensive,” said Beyer.

Beyer remembers a time he when a young man purchased CDs and DVDs of child porn on the dark web and had them mailed to his home where they caught up with him. Equally stolen were social security numbers, IDs and bank account information for as cheap as $50. Not long ago, a man was arrested for buying a stolen National ID on these same online black markets and used it to purchase himself a car in Alabama with a loan and then immediately tried to flip it for $20,000 cash. He was arrested after a potential buyer tipped off the police.

The sale of child pornography, identity theft, ransomware-as-a service, drugs and firearm trafficking are the most common crimes on the dark web committed by La Plata County residents.

The more frequent shoppers on the underground dark web markets always use a Tor Browser. The Onion Router is a browsing software that allows surfing anonymously on the internet, and more difficult to trace and monitor the activities of the users, through intermingling their traffic with other traffic of different users.

In some countries where there is a restriction of access to some specific sites by the government, the dark web could aid the evasion of censorship. “There is nothing illegal in visiting the darknet websites and having a look at what is selling.” Newman made it clear. “Some of the dark web marketplaces sell non-illicit stuff and we have no problem with that,” he continued.

According to Newman, most of the purchased items on the dark web are paid for using cryptocurrencies particularly bitcoins to increase their anonymity and to avoid identity theft. A single gram of Heroin cost $180 while that of cocaine goes for $125 on the dark web.

After placing an order, the illegal package is shipped to the customers’ house or place agreed via post office or other means. You might receive a package that resembles a Porcelain doll, Newman said.

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