With law enforcement becoming active in dismantling botnets, arresting cybercriminals, and taking other actions against online crime, security researchers decided to scour the Dark Web to learn criminals' perspectives on arrest and incarceration.
The Digital Shadows' Photon research team found an increasing number of threads on criminal forums discussing operational security, which indicates avoiding detection by law enforcement is a priority for many. Forum members across languages have discussed several aspects of "OpSec," such as which Jabber servers are the best, and virtual and physical practices for protecting their data.
Popular topics included the risks of working with others.
"You've got to understand that the majority [of people on the Dark Web] will sell you out," one post warned.
Still, other comments spoke of friendships developed on criminal forums. It's a Catch-22, the researchers say. Alliance is necessary to build a criminal career. However, the same collaboration could prove dangerous.
Researchers noticed the fear of law enforcement may influence criminals' victim choices. In the Russian-speaking cybercriminal community, they say, law enforcement will leave you alone so long as attackers don't target victims in former Soviet Union nations.
"If you're working on the Russian Federation, then [law enforcement will] hunt you down, but if you're working on the EU or the US, then nothing will happen, no one will care," one user said.
This isn't always the case; after all, Ukrainian police were involved in the takedown of Emotet by Dutch law enforcement. However, this viewpoint's popularity on cybercriminal forums "is telling," researchers say. On a related note, many cybercriminals are wary of foreign travel. Many members of the Russian-language forums believe their government may leave them alone. However, they may find themselves in legal trouble when abroad, researchers write.
Talk of law enforcement practices and tales of arrest are more common on Russian-language forums. English-language forums are less trusting, as these platforms are frequently disrupted or taken down by law enforcement. Further, there are allegations of English-language forums and marketplaces becoming law enforcement honeypots, discouraging open conversation.
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