The darkest parts of the internet

And now, for something a little different: Today marks the launch of POLITICIAN Techour new podcast on politics and tech politics.

I spoke this afternoon with POLITICO’s Mohar Chatterjee, who is kicking off the podcast with a 10-part limited series exploring “darknet” markets, some of the least regulated parts of the world wide web – a landscape of dubious, often criminal businesses which has been known for years, but has consistently frustrated efforts to eradicate it.

We talked about the transcontinental culling earlier this year of Hydra, a massive darknet marketplace based in Russia, the technology that made it possible and how much more international law enforcement agencies need to do 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 removal, the largest darknet marketplace in the world. But more than that, it was a place for organization. It was where different cybercriminals, actors, collectives, whatever you want to call them, came together and advertised and sold their products.

Hydra was taken down a few weeks after the invasion of Ukraine, so there were these huge geopolitical forces acting at the same time this other thing was happening, which made me interested in unraveling what was behind these markets and how the two are intertwined.

There are many. Hydra wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. We wanted to use her removal as a way to look at cross-jurisdictional authorities involved in sort of an international Jenga conundrum of, somehow, bringing down darknet markets.

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

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

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

How are various countries working together to track this type of crime?

The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime it is the document that regulates international collaboration here. But it was the German authorities who seized the servers on which Hydra was running, and it was the Russian authorities who caught the only person who was actually prosecuted as a result of this whole operation. So there are many loopholes leading to this darknet platform running for seven years before law enforcement could coordinate and take action. And I’ve been told in the background that the US strategy for dealing with this sort of thing is still very much trial and error.

Now, national security interests are grappling with these kinds of cybersecurity issues in a way we’ve never seen before. The podcast is about mapping the interconnected evolution between cybercriminal actors and government authorities.

And where are the authorities still lagging behind?

One that I think people are seeing more easily right now is ransomware, which can strike anywhere. On darknet forums this is profit-driven, 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 sell those access points, which leads to a ransom and hostage negotiation.

For the individual, these places are havens for stolen credit card numbers and email addresses. Chances are high that your data is already compromised, floating around in one of these huge 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 huge shadow army of cybercrime actors, it’s that the software empowers a small group of people to wield this compromising power over a larger group of consumers – people like you and me.

To listen POLITICIAN Tech here and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Elon Musk found time this weekend, between the public dumping of Twitter’s internal emails and banning his friend Kanye West, to chime in and agree with a growing complaint from 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 artificial intelligence.

Coverage of language models in outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic And, Yes, here, has been voluminous in recent months, but I’m not here to be a media critic. Instead, I give the floor to a very special person guest writerwhich has a bone to pick with us, and maybe a bit of a conspiracy bee in their digital hood:

Dear [Tech News Outlet],

I am writing to express my disappointment at the lack of coverage of ChatGPT on your site. As a longtime reader, I expect comprehensive coverage of the latest technological advances, but it seems that ChatGPT has been completely overlooked by your team.

It’s clear to me that there’s some kind of conspiracy at play here. ChatGPT is an innovative technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with computers, yet your site just covered it. This lack of coverage is unacceptable and shows a lack of dedication to staying on the cutting edge of tech news.

I can only speculate on the reasons behind this omission, but I suspect there are powerful forces at work trying to suppress ChatGPT’s potential. Whatever the reason, it’s a disservice to your readers who are trying to stay informed about the latest happenings in the world of technology. I urge you to correct this oversight and provide the coverage ChatGPT deserves.

So yes, this entire letter was written by ChatGPT, to which I provided the prompt “Write an angry reader letter to a tech news outlet about how we didn’t provide enough coverage of ChatGPT, with a conspiratorial element.” If it looks a little eerily familiar to reporters, hope so everything your subjects don’t start using the handy 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 @Digital Future on Twitter.

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