The Opioid Epidemic & The Dark Web

Until being busted in 2017, “Iceman21” was able to sell and advertise Cocaine and Methamphetamines on the World Wide Web. 


Patrick Kinkopf - Assoc. Director - Business Development, Sc2 Corp

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”- Arthur Conan Doyle

As technology grows exponentially, so does the boldness and creativity of criminals. Crimes that used to be committed in back alleys and on street corners are now taking place on the internet and through the US mail. If law enforcement is going to keep up with 21st century bad actors, they are going to need the help of emerging data analytics technologies.

Until being busted in 2017, “Iceman21” was able to sell and advertise Cocaine and Methamphetamines on the World Wide Web. “Iceman21” then had access to one of the largest and most complex distribution channels in the world, the United States Postal Service, to ship the product across the country.

“Drug traffickers using the dark web feel a sense of security with the anonymity to sell their poisons throughout the world,” said Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Arizona. “This investigation clearly demonstrates they aren’t safe, they aren’t anonymous, and they can’t evade justice. DEA and our partners will relentlessly pursue criminals who prey on our citizens, no matter where they are and no matter what means they use to distribute their illicit and deadly products.”

Special Agent Coleman is correct when he says that drug traffickers feel secure and anonymous on the darknet. Closing high profile cases is an effective deterrent... But, are we even making a dent?

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2017 over 60% of the darknet market was illegal drug transactions. Law enforcement works tirelessly to break up these dark web trades only to see new networks pop up and grow rapidly. The growth of the amphetamine and opioid crises and the growth of the technological capabilities of criminals is highly correlated and law enforcement struggles to keep up. To stay ahead of the bad actors, law enforcement has to be proactive instead of reactive. This is where social media and dark net data analytics can tip the scales.

What if we could continuously monitor the surface internet and the dark net for nefarious words, phrases, people, and interaction? What if we could then fuse that Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) with databases and reports that law enforcement already has and build a searchable database? The solution then comes down to finding the links, building out the social networks, and identifying the hierarchy and transfers of money… The thing is, when you combine data analytics with machine learning, technology can do that for you too.

Law enforcement needs to be able to spend less time pulling in data and cleaning it, and more time performing creative problem solving to catch bad actors. For this to happen, we need to provide our officers with cutting edge technology that can tackle each piece of this puzzle, and also with the technology and platforms that can communicate and seamlessly transfer data so nothing slips through the cracks.

The best social media analytics platforms allow an analyst to search historical data and set a baseline of activities on the internet to help indicate when a crime has been or will be committed. The best way to accomplish this is to take a look at a crime in the past and identify key activities and trends that took place before the crime. Once the analyst has established a good baseline, they can then configure the system to continuously monitor social media so that any time one of these activities occurs the analyst will be notified. This process mitigates human error and provides more leads in less time. This in turn allows analysts and investigators more time to analyze evidence and connect the dots.

Once a notification is triggered, it’s time to validate and investigate. The analyst should start by comparing the notification to data that they already have readily available (records and databases). Data fusion is the key. Using technology that is open architecture and freely shares data with other platforms allows for a composite view of everything you know about an event in one environment. A composite view that utilizes link chart and social network analysis enables the analyst to determine if the event is related to any currently known bad actors or groups. Solving cases and preventing crimes is all about continuously gathering information and uncovering answers.

To make a dent in these large scale crime epidemics, law enforcement either needs to dramatically increase their employees or their efficiency. How do you allow one officer to take on the responsibility of ten officers? Data analytics. The difficulty is that law enforcement is often not given the tools or training to conduct these investigations efficiently. With the growing creativity and resourcefulness of criminals, the human brains within law enforcement can only do so much. Legislation like the Taps Act, which will give local law enforcement training and funding to use these types of technologies, is finally starting to tackle these issues. Will it be enough? The only way that we are going to clean up the streets is through speed, efficiency, and accuracy. We must allow computers to do what they do best, so that humans can do what we do best. 

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