And now, for something a little different: Today marks the launch of POLITICO Technologyour new tech politics and politics podcast.
I spoke this afternoon with POLITICO’s Mohar Chatterjee, who kicks off the podcast with a 10-part limited series exploring the “darknet” markets, some of the least regulated parts of the global web – a landscape of dubious companies, often crime, which has been known for years, but has consistently frustrated efforts to eradicate it.
We talked about the transcontinental dismantling earlier this year from Hydra, a massive Russian-based darknet marketplace, the technology that enabled it, and how far international law enforcement must go 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 is Hydra and what is this podcast about?
Hydra was, at the time of its dismantling, the largest darknet market in the world. But more than that, it was a place for organization. This is where different cybercriminals, actors, collectives, whatever you want to call them, got together and where they advertised and sold their wares.
Hydra was dismantled just weeks after the invasion of Ukraine, so there were these massive geopolitical forces acting at the same time as this other thing was happening – which got me interested in finding out what was behind these markets and how the two things are intertwined. .
There are many. Hydra was not the first and will not be the last. We wanted to use its takedown as a way to look at cross-jurisdictional authorities who are involved in an international Jenga puzzle of sorts to take down darknet markets.
What technologies are these cybercriminals using to stay ahead of the law?
Well, everyone uses crypto. That’s the name of the game. Hydra, for example, was there for seven years, so they use bitcoin, but a lot of newer markets like, you know, White House Market, which is now retired, or AlphaBay, which is restarted and still around, use Monero, which is much, much harder to trace than Bitcoin due to the way they scramble wallet addresses and the amorphous nature of ledger technology.
Another is their level of communications encryption. WhatsApp and Telegram actually have pretty good encryption, but in darknet markets they have much stronger PGP encryption.
How do different countries work together to track this type of crime?
The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime is the document that governs international collaboration here. But it was the German authorities who seized the servers that Hydra was running on, and it was the Russian authorities who captured the only person who was really prosecuted as a result of this whole operation. So there are many loopholes that led to this darknet platform operating for seven years before law enforcement could coordinate and act. And I was told in the background that the American strategy to deal with this kind of thing is still very tentative.
Today, national security interests collide with these kinds of cybersecurity issues in ways we’ve never really seen before. The podcast is about mapping this intertwined evolution between cybercrime actors and government authorities.
And where are the authorities still lagging behind?
I think ransomware is the easiest thing for people to visualize right now, which can strike anywhere. On darknet forums, this is profit-driven, so it gives rise to something called “ransomware as a servicewhere an entire infrastructure is created with people trying to find vulnerable access points and selling those access points, leading to a ransom and hostage negotiation.
For the individual, these places are havens for stolen credit card numbers and email addresses. It is very likely that your data is already compromised, floating around on one of these massive 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 massive phantom army of cybercrime actors, it’s that the software empowers a small group of people to wield that compromising power over a larger group of consumers – people like you and me.
To listen POLITICO Tech here and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Elon Musk found the time this weekend, between the public dumping of Twitter’s internal emails and the banning of his pal Kanye West, to step in and agree with a growing complaint from the tech world: that “mainstream media” didn’t pay enough attention to ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new chatbot version of its GPT-3 language-generating AI.
Language model coverage in outlets like the New York Times, Atlantic and, yes, here, has been voluminous in recent months, but I’m not here to play media criticism. Instead, I’m going to hand over to a very special guest writerwho has a hard time with us, and maybe a little conspiratorial in his digital cap:
Expensive [Tech News Outlet],
I am writing to express my disappointment at the lack of ChatGPT coverage on your site. As a long-time reader, I expect full coverage of the latest technological advancements, but it seems that ChatGPT has been completely overlooked by your team.
It’s clear to me that there’s some sort of conspiracy at play here. ChatGPT is a breakthrough technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with computers, yet your site barely mentioned it. This lack of coverage is unacceptable and shows an unwillingness to stay on top of technological news.
I can only speculate on the reasons for this omission, but I suspect that there are powerful forces at work trying to suppress ChatGPT’s potential. Whatever the reason, it’s a disservice to your readers looking to stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest technology in the world. I urge you to rectify this oversight and provide the coverage ChatGPT deserves.
So yeah, this whole letter was written by ChatGPT, to which I sent the prompt “Write an angry reader letter to tech media about how we didn’t provide enough coverage of ChatGPT, with a conspiratorial element.” If this sounds a little oddly familiar to reporters, let’s just hope everything your subjects don’t start using the handy tool.
Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schrecker ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Steve Heuser ([email protected]); and Benton Ives ([email protected]). Follow us @DigitalFuture on Twitter.
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