|A Tor Primer for Probation and Parole Officers|
|By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist|
Probation and parole officers know about drug users and what to look for right? We test for drugs, we look for unexplained cash, and obviously for drugs. Well, recently, it was announced that the FBI had arrested the alleged leader of Silk Road, a website on Tor, involved in the illicit drug trade. I am not talking about the sale of “fake pot” (“Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn”) which I mentioned way back in 2011. I am talking about an open market for real marijuana, heroin, cocaine, literally any drug you can name it.
What are Tor and Silk Road, what are their “urls” and how can I get there? Well, you can’t get there from here. Additionally, you also need to understand something about bitcoins, the digital currency used to buy and sell drugs and other contraband on the underground. Let me give you some information and some hints to help bring you up to speed. First, let talk about Tor, which stands for The Onion Router Network. Tor was developed with funding from the U.S. Navy and allows users to surf the Internet anonymously. The user must download some free software to access Tor. If a used properly, Tor makes it very difficult to identify who a user is or what they are doing online. So difficult in fact, that the National Security Agency (NSA) considers it … “[s]till the King of high secure, low latency Internet anonymity” and that “[t]here are no contenders for the throne in waiting” . Well Tor also has an area, called “hidden services”, where users can set up websites. These websites can only be found while one is using Tor and have dominion ending in .onion. So folks can set up websites on a network where user’s activities can’t be traced. One final comment, Tor is not itself illegal to use or have. Yep, that is a perfect place to set up an illegal drug market.
Okay, now where do bitcoins come in? Well bitcoins are currently not regulated. They are in many ways untraceable and can be converted back and forth from regular currency. Additionally, bitcoins are maintained in an electronic wallet, which can be stored on a cell phone (there are apps for that after all). Finally, bitcoins have real value, trading in the area of $135 to $137 for one bitcoin. Are you following this? A hidden website for illegal markets, on a network where your activities can’t be traced, where you can buy things with an unregulated currency that is difficult to trace and very portable. It is a perfect environment for 21st criminal behavior!
In my previous drug-cyberspace related article, I provided some suggestions for probation and parole officers. Let me add a few to consider in light of the possibility of supervised offenders using Tor to get drugs, either for personal use or for sale:
Mr. Bowker has over 27 years’ experience in law enforcement/corrections and is recognized as an expert in managing cyber-risk in offender populations. In addition to co-writing Investigating Internet Crimes, 1st Edition: An Introduction to Solving Crimes in Cyberspace, (Syngress, November 2013), he is also the author of The Cybercrime Handbook for Community Corrections: Managing Offender Risk in the 21st Century. In 2013, Mr. Bowker received the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) Sam Houston State University Award for his writing contributions to promote awareness of cybercrime and tools for helping the community corrections field combat computer crime. Additionally, he was recognized as the 2013 Great Lakes Region, Thomas E. Gahl Line Officer of the Year by the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officer Association for his work in the cybercrime area.
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