How Cybercriminals Utilize Dark Web Forums for Collaboration and Trade

Dive into the depths of the dark web, understanding its nature, operations, and the role of Tor in offering online anonymity. Discover how dark web forums function and the significance of their security measures.

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Vikas Kundu
November 27, 2023
Last Update posted on
February 3, 2024
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The dark web, a hidden segment of the internet, remains elusive to many. Unlike the searchable parts of the web, the dark web is not indexed by traditional search engines, making it a haven for anonymity. This guide delves into its workings, highlighting both its legitimate and illegal uses, and the role of Tor in maintaining privacy.

What is Darkweb? : A Darker Intro

The dark web is like the hidden part of the internet. It's not on Google or regular websites. People use it for secret or illegal stuff because it's hard to track them there. It's a place where you can be anonymous, and you might find things you can't find on the regular internet. This anonymity is offered by something known as Tor.

Tor, or The Onion Router, is a privacy-focused network tool that anonymizes internet traffic by routing it through a series of encrypted nodes. It conceals a user's IP address, providing online anonymity and protection against surveillance. Tor is used to access censored content, protect privacy, and circumvent online restrictions, but it's important to note that it can be used for both legal and illegal purposes.

Also Read Dark web and ATM Hacking

Illegal activities on the dark web can include the sale of drugs, stolen data, hacking services, and more.

It's a part of the internet associated with secrecy, and while not everything on the dark web is illegal, it often gets a bad reputation because of its association with illegal activities.

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): “If you think of the internet as a freeway then the dark web is the road across the river that requires a ferry to cross. This ferry of course is Tor. Once you cross the river all the traces of your identity are deleted and you're in the ‘Anonymous Land’  ”

What are DarkWeb Forums and How they Work?

Since the inception of the internet around the 90s there have been a variety of bulletin boards started by users to share information on certain topics. Over time came the Internet forums, which are basically online platforms or websites where people can engage in discussions, share information, ask questions, and interact with one another. If you host these platforms in such a manner that they are accessible over Tor, what you get is Darkweb Forums! Although most of these forums are also accessible via the normal web, they also serve a tor version of the forum. 

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): Darkweb forums are basically ‘bikers gangs’ of people on the ‘Anonymous Land’ that have come together based on shared interests.

Anatomy of A Darkweb Forum

Services Offered

It’s not just the hackers that visit these dark forums but also people who require their services. So, in essence, it is just like Craigslist for hackers minus the spam (because of moderation). One can expect to find all kinds of users on a dark web forum including scammers that pretend to be hackers and just want to pocket in the money without actually offering anything. Some of the services offered by the users of darkweb are:

  • Malware Development: A range of malicious software development services, including customized malware creation, ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), exploit kits, botnet establishment, remote access trojans (RATs), keyloggers, distributed denial of service (DDoS) tools, data exfiltration malware, phishing attack payloads, cryptocurrency miners, stolen exploits, and encryption services are being offered on the dark web forums. 
  • Selling Access: Compromised user accounts, stolen credentials, hacked websites, and unauthorized access to systems are also majorly being offered on these forums
  • Selling Leaked Data: Dark web marketplaces and forums offer access to a range of leaked data, which includes stolen personal information, financial records, login credentials, and other sensitive details. This illicit trade in leaked data enables cybercriminals to exploit individuals and organizations for various malicious purposes, including identity theft, financial fraud, and cyberattacks
  • Money Laundering: On the dark web, services related to money laundering and cryptocurrency are available for cybercriminals seeking to conceal the origins of illegally obtained funds. These services typically involve converting and funneling dirty money, often in the form of cryptocurrencies, through various complex financial transactions to make it appear legitimate. Money laundering on the dark web enables criminals to legitimize their ill-gotten gains from activities such as fraud, drug trafficking, and cybercrime.
  • Information Sharing: On the dark web, information-sharing services are available for cybercriminals looking to exchange data, strategies, and tools. These platforms facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources related to cybercrime, hacking techniques, vulnerabilities, and more. While information-sharing in itself is not necessarily illegal, on the dark web, it often serves as a means to promote and coordinate illegal activities.
  • Recruitment: On the dark web, recruitment services are offered to cybercriminals seeking to expand their criminal enterprises. These services provide a platform for recruiting individuals with various skills, including hacking, money muling, or even physical criminal activities. Cybercriminals looking to build or join a criminal organization can find like-minded individuals through these channels.

Landing Page of a Popular Dark Web Forum XSS

Also read BidenCash Business Expansion: SSH Server Access Now Available on Dark Web | CloudSEK

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): In the groups of these ‘bikers gangs’ on the ‘Anonymous Land’, there are people with various skill sets such as engine repair, fuel procurements, etc, these are the various components of the whole dark web forum ecosystem that allow it to function efficiently. 

Moderators

Dark web forum moderators are individuals responsible for maintaining order, enforcing rules, and managing discussions on hidden or anonymous online forums, commonly found on the dark web. These forums often host discussions related to illegal activities, hacking, cybercrime, drug trafficking, and other illicit content. Moderators play a pivotal role in ensuring that these forums remain functional, though their precise methods and motivations can vary significantly.

Moderators are typically selected by the forum's administrators or established moderators. They may have a background in the topics discussed on the forum, such as hacking or cybercrime. Some may volunteer, while others may be compensated in various ways. Dark web forum moderators perform a variety of tasks such as:

  • Enforcing Rules: Dark web forums have rules and guidelines, though they may differ from traditional internet forums. Moderators enforce these rules by monitoring discussions, removing inappropriate content, banning disruptive users, and taking action against those who violate forum policies.
  • Content Monitoring: Moderators actively monitor forum discussions for any content that violates the forum's rules or the law. This includes illegal sales, explicit content, threats, or any activity that may draw unwanted attention from law enforcement.
  • Communication: Moderators often have communication channels with other moderators and administrators. They discuss issues, coordinate actions, and share information about problematic users or potential threats to the forum's security.
  • Balancing Act: Moderators must navigate a fine line between maintaining order and allowing discussions to continue. They aim to prevent the forum from becoming a hotbed of illegal activity that might attract the attention of law enforcement while maintaining an environment where users feel they can discuss their interests.
  • Security Measures: To protect their anonymity, moderators often use encryption, anonymous communication methods, and take other precautions to safeguard their identity.

Dark web forum moderators play a crucial role in the dark web ecosystem, helping to maintain a semblance of order in a chaotic environment. Their activities are shrouded in secrecy, making them enigmatic figures in the hidden corners of the internet.

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): Moderators are basically the ‘Group Elders’ in these ‘Biker Gangs’ whose job is to ensure that the existence of the gang is not threatened by means of dispute resolution and censorship. That’s how the moderators of these dark web forums work.

Also read The Upsurge of Digital Fingerprints in Underground Marketplaces

Membership Levels and Trust Systems

Membership levels and trust systems are fundamental features of online communities, especially prevalent on the dark web, where anonymity and security are paramount. These systems are designed to build trust, ensure security, and differentiate between users based on their participation and history within a particular platform. Here's an overview of how membership levels and trust systems work:

  • Membership Tiers: Many dark web forums and marketplaces have different membership tiers, each offering distinct privileges. The higher the tier, the more access and trust a user enjoys. These tiers may range from basic members to advanced users, moderators, and administrators.
  • Trust Levels: Users' trust levels are often determined by their activity, contribution, and history within the community. Trust can be gained by positive interactions, contributions, and adhering to community guidelines. Users with higher trust levels are more likely to be perceived as reliable and are granted more access and privileges.
  • Reputation Systems: Some dark web platforms implement reputation systems, where users can rate and review one another based on their interactions. This feedback mechanism helps build trust and allows other users to gauge the reliability of a particular individual before engaging in transactions or discussions.
  • Trust Decay: Trust levels may also decrease if a user is found engaging in suspicious or harmful activities. Trust decay is a method to discourage malicious behavior and ensure that trust is continually earned rather than assumed.
  • Verification and KYC: Some dark web communities require users to provide proof of identity or financial transactions to increase their trust level. This adds a layer of security, as users are less likely to engage in fraudulent or malicious activities when their real identity is at stake.

 A badge showing different levels of users on the popular dark web forum XSS

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): In order to join any ‘biker gang’ of your choice, you need to do a certain illegal action to show that you're one of them, the better you do it, the more you gain their trust and reputation in the gang. This is pretty much how trust and membership work in these dark web forums.

Escrow Services

Escrow services are a vital component in many dark web transactions. An escrow agent, often appointed by the platform, holds the funds or goods in trust until both parties fulfill their obligations. This system prevents fraud, as neither the buyer nor the seller has direct access to the funds or goods until the transaction is successfully completed.

Escrow services typically charge fees for their role in facilitating transactions. These fees may vary based on the value of the transaction and the platform's policies. Escrow services often use encryption and other security protocols to protect users' funds and ensure the privacy and security of transactions.

 Admin of the popular Russian dark web forum XSS offering escrow service

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): In these ‘biker gangs’ there are some people that anyone can trust with their valuables while they make exchanges with other people, this is how escrow works on dark web forums.

Defense From the Dark Arts

In conclusion, the dark web serves as a covert sanctuary where cybercriminals convene for collaborative and illicit activities. Within these concealed forums, a thriving underground ecosystem facilitates the exchange of nefarious tools, pilfered data, and specialized knowledge, granting wrongdoers a certain degree of impunity in their operations. Their interactions are shrouded in anonymity and shielded by encrypted transactions, further perpetuating a global network of digital threats.

Dark web forums have been taken down in the past as a result of coordinated law enforcement operations. These operations often involve tracking down the administrators or key figures behind the forum and making arrests. For instance, this year around July BreachForums owner Pompompurin pleaded guilty to hacking charges. However, the adeptness and adaptability displayed by cybercriminals in harnessing dark web forums pose substantial challenges for law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity experts alike. As technology advances, these individuals continually refine their tactics, underscoring the imperative need for unwavering vigilance and proactive defense within the security community. 

Digital threats will always be there that can come from the ‘Anonymous Land’ and attack you on the freeway thus disrupting the journey. In order to defend yourself from them, you require someone who keeps a bird’s eye view on the gang of anonymous land and informs you of a threat beforehand so that you can accelerate on the freeway before the biker gangs approach you. Well, Cloudsek does exactly this for you, with its combined power of Cyber Intelligence, Brand Monitoring, Attack Surface Monitoring, Infrastructure Monitoring, and Supply Chain Intelligence. Go, schedule a demo today!

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min read

How Cybercriminals Utilize Dark Web Forums for Collaboration and Trade

Dive into the depths of the dark web, understanding its nature, operations, and the role of Tor in offering online anonymity. Discover how dark web forums function and the significance of their security measures.

Authors
Vikas Kundu
Co-Authors
No items found.

The dark web, a hidden segment of the internet, remains elusive to many. Unlike the searchable parts of the web, the dark web is not indexed by traditional search engines, making it a haven for anonymity. This guide delves into its workings, highlighting both its legitimate and illegal uses, and the role of Tor in maintaining privacy.

What is Darkweb? : A Darker Intro

The dark web is like the hidden part of the internet. It's not on Google or regular websites. People use it for secret or illegal stuff because it's hard to track them there. It's a place where you can be anonymous, and you might find things you can't find on the regular internet. This anonymity is offered by something known as Tor.

Tor, or The Onion Router, is a privacy-focused network tool that anonymizes internet traffic by routing it through a series of encrypted nodes. It conceals a user's IP address, providing online anonymity and protection against surveillance. Tor is used to access censored content, protect privacy, and circumvent online restrictions, but it's important to note that it can be used for both legal and illegal purposes.

Also Read Dark web and ATM Hacking

Illegal activities on the dark web can include the sale of drugs, stolen data, hacking services, and more.

It's a part of the internet associated with secrecy, and while not everything on the dark web is illegal, it often gets a bad reputation because of its association with illegal activities.

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): “If you think of the internet as a freeway then the dark web is the road across the river that requires a ferry to cross. This ferry of course is Tor. Once you cross the river all the traces of your identity are deleted and you're in the ‘Anonymous Land’  ”

What are DarkWeb Forums and How they Work?

Since the inception of the internet around the 90s there have been a variety of bulletin boards started by users to share information on certain topics. Over time came the Internet forums, which are basically online platforms or websites where people can engage in discussions, share information, ask questions, and interact with one another. If you host these platforms in such a manner that they are accessible over Tor, what you get is Darkweb Forums! Although most of these forums are also accessible via the normal web, they also serve a tor version of the forum. 

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): Darkweb forums are basically ‘bikers gangs’ of people on the ‘Anonymous Land’ that have come together based on shared interests.

Anatomy of A Darkweb Forum

Services Offered

It’s not just the hackers that visit these dark forums but also people who require their services. So, in essence, it is just like Craigslist for hackers minus the spam (because of moderation). One can expect to find all kinds of users on a dark web forum including scammers that pretend to be hackers and just want to pocket in the money without actually offering anything. Some of the services offered by the users of darkweb are:

  • Malware Development: A range of malicious software development services, including customized malware creation, ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), exploit kits, botnet establishment, remote access trojans (RATs), keyloggers, distributed denial of service (DDoS) tools, data exfiltration malware, phishing attack payloads, cryptocurrency miners, stolen exploits, and encryption services are being offered on the dark web forums. 
  • Selling Access: Compromised user accounts, stolen credentials, hacked websites, and unauthorized access to systems are also majorly being offered on these forums
  • Selling Leaked Data: Dark web marketplaces and forums offer access to a range of leaked data, which includes stolen personal information, financial records, login credentials, and other sensitive details. This illicit trade in leaked data enables cybercriminals to exploit individuals and organizations for various malicious purposes, including identity theft, financial fraud, and cyberattacks
  • Money Laundering: On the dark web, services related to money laundering and cryptocurrency are available for cybercriminals seeking to conceal the origins of illegally obtained funds. These services typically involve converting and funneling dirty money, often in the form of cryptocurrencies, through various complex financial transactions to make it appear legitimate. Money laundering on the dark web enables criminals to legitimize their ill-gotten gains from activities such as fraud, drug trafficking, and cybercrime.
  • Information Sharing: On the dark web, information-sharing services are available for cybercriminals looking to exchange data, strategies, and tools. These platforms facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources related to cybercrime, hacking techniques, vulnerabilities, and more. While information-sharing in itself is not necessarily illegal, on the dark web, it often serves as a means to promote and coordinate illegal activities.
  • Recruitment: On the dark web, recruitment services are offered to cybercriminals seeking to expand their criminal enterprises. These services provide a platform for recruiting individuals with various skills, including hacking, money muling, or even physical criminal activities. Cybercriminals looking to build or join a criminal organization can find like-minded individuals through these channels.

Landing Page of a Popular Dark Web Forum XSS

Also read BidenCash Business Expansion: SSH Server Access Now Available on Dark Web | CloudSEK

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): In the groups of these ‘bikers gangs’ on the ‘Anonymous Land’, there are people with various skill sets such as engine repair, fuel procurements, etc, these are the various components of the whole dark web forum ecosystem that allow it to function efficiently. 

Moderators

Dark web forum moderators are individuals responsible for maintaining order, enforcing rules, and managing discussions on hidden or anonymous online forums, commonly found on the dark web. These forums often host discussions related to illegal activities, hacking, cybercrime, drug trafficking, and other illicit content. Moderators play a pivotal role in ensuring that these forums remain functional, though their precise methods and motivations can vary significantly.

Moderators are typically selected by the forum's administrators or established moderators. They may have a background in the topics discussed on the forum, such as hacking or cybercrime. Some may volunteer, while others may be compensated in various ways. Dark web forum moderators perform a variety of tasks such as:

  • Enforcing Rules: Dark web forums have rules and guidelines, though they may differ from traditional internet forums. Moderators enforce these rules by monitoring discussions, removing inappropriate content, banning disruptive users, and taking action against those who violate forum policies.
  • Content Monitoring: Moderators actively monitor forum discussions for any content that violates the forum's rules or the law. This includes illegal sales, explicit content, threats, or any activity that may draw unwanted attention from law enforcement.
  • Communication: Moderators often have communication channels with other moderators and administrators. They discuss issues, coordinate actions, and share information about problematic users or potential threats to the forum's security.
  • Balancing Act: Moderators must navigate a fine line between maintaining order and allowing discussions to continue. They aim to prevent the forum from becoming a hotbed of illegal activity that might attract the attention of law enforcement while maintaining an environment where users feel they can discuss their interests.
  • Security Measures: To protect their anonymity, moderators often use encryption, anonymous communication methods, and take other precautions to safeguard their identity.

Dark web forum moderators play a crucial role in the dark web ecosystem, helping to maintain a semblance of order in a chaotic environment. Their activities are shrouded in secrecy, making them enigmatic figures in the hidden corners of the internet.

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): Moderators are basically the ‘Group Elders’ in these ‘Biker Gangs’ whose job is to ensure that the existence of the gang is not threatened by means of dispute resolution and censorship. That’s how the moderators of these dark web forums work.

Also read The Upsurge of Digital Fingerprints in Underground Marketplaces

Membership Levels and Trust Systems

Membership levels and trust systems are fundamental features of online communities, especially prevalent on the dark web, where anonymity and security are paramount. These systems are designed to build trust, ensure security, and differentiate between users based on their participation and history within a particular platform. Here's an overview of how membership levels and trust systems work:

  • Membership Tiers: Many dark web forums and marketplaces have different membership tiers, each offering distinct privileges. The higher the tier, the more access and trust a user enjoys. These tiers may range from basic members to advanced users, moderators, and administrators.
  • Trust Levels: Users' trust levels are often determined by their activity, contribution, and history within the community. Trust can be gained by positive interactions, contributions, and adhering to community guidelines. Users with higher trust levels are more likely to be perceived as reliable and are granted more access and privileges.
  • Reputation Systems: Some dark web platforms implement reputation systems, where users can rate and review one another based on their interactions. This feedback mechanism helps build trust and allows other users to gauge the reliability of a particular individual before engaging in transactions or discussions.
  • Trust Decay: Trust levels may also decrease if a user is found engaging in suspicious or harmful activities. Trust decay is a method to discourage malicious behavior and ensure that trust is continually earned rather than assumed.
  • Verification and KYC: Some dark web communities require users to provide proof of identity or financial transactions to increase their trust level. This adds a layer of security, as users are less likely to engage in fraudulent or malicious activities when their real identity is at stake.

 A badge showing different levels of users on the popular dark web forum XSS

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): In order to join any ‘biker gang’ of your choice, you need to do a certain illegal action to show that you're one of them, the better you do it, the more you gain their trust and reputation in the gang. This is pretty much how trust and membership work in these dark web forums.

Escrow Services

Escrow services are a vital component in many dark web transactions. An escrow agent, often appointed by the platform, holds the funds or goods in trust until both parties fulfill their obligations. This system prevents fraud, as neither the buyer nor the seller has direct access to the funds or goods until the transaction is successfully completed.

Escrow services typically charge fees for their role in facilitating transactions. These fees may vary based on the value of the transaction and the platform's policies. Escrow services often use encryption and other security protocols to protect users' funds and ensure the privacy and security of transactions.

 Admin of the popular Russian dark web forum XSS offering escrow service

ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): In these ‘biker gangs’ there are some people that anyone can trust with their valuables while they make exchanges with other people, this is how escrow works on dark web forums.

Defense From the Dark Arts

In conclusion, the dark web serves as a covert sanctuary where cybercriminals convene for collaborative and illicit activities. Within these concealed forums, a thriving underground ecosystem facilitates the exchange of nefarious tools, pilfered data, and specialized knowledge, granting wrongdoers a certain degree of impunity in their operations. Their interactions are shrouded in anonymity and shielded by encrypted transactions, further perpetuating a global network of digital threats.

Dark web forums have been taken down in the past as a result of coordinated law enforcement operations. These operations often involve tracking down the administrators or key figures behind the forum and making arrests. For instance, this year around July BreachForums owner Pompompurin pleaded guilty to hacking charges. However, the adeptness and adaptability displayed by cybercriminals in harnessing dark web forums pose substantial challenges for law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity experts alike. As technology advances, these individuals continually refine their tactics, underscoring the imperative need for unwavering vigilance and proactive defense within the security community. 

Digital threats will always be there that can come from the ‘Anonymous Land’ and attack you on the freeway thus disrupting the journey. In order to defend yourself from them, you require someone who keeps a bird’s eye view on the gang of anonymous land and informs you of a threat beforehand so that you can accelerate on the freeway before the biker gangs approach you. Well, Cloudsek does exactly this for you, with its combined power of Cyber Intelligence, Brand Monitoring, Attack Surface Monitoring, Infrastructure Monitoring, and Supply Chain Intelligence. Go, schedule a demo today!