Action News Investigation: Uncovering the Dark Net
This Action News investigation is exposing an online haven for illegal activity. It's called the Dark Net - a dangerous black market run by hackers and criminals where high powered weapons, child pornography and even your personal information can be bought and sold.
Most law abiding citizens have no idea the Dark Net exists. It's such a secretive online environment that federal law enforcement, like the FBI, refused to even discuss it with Action News as police face a difficult task of patrolling this high tech and highly dangerous criminal environment.
Action News consulted with a computer intelligence expert and a Pennsylvania State Police cyber crimes investigator.
"As a law enforcement officer we really don't want people knowing about the Dark Net, because it makes my job more difficult," the investigator said.
Banned items, like fake IDs, toxic drugs, illegal weapons and stolen money, can be purchased here and it's difficult to trace; it's all underground and all anonymous.
But getting on the Dark Net is not as simple as typing in a search on the World Wide Web.
"You have to know where something is in the Dark Net to find it," the computer expert said.
The Dark Net operates on what's called the "tor" network, which is a server that conceals users information and allows money to switch hands anonymously.
"IPs are obscured, but like in any traditional crime, people get greedy," the investigator said.
The Pennsylvania State Police Computer Crimes Task Force is targeting criminals using the Dark Net for everything from child porn to identity theft.
Katie Nicholas was just one of hundreds of victims whose credit card information was being sold on an underground site.
By doing a simple search, our experts led us to Nicholas.
"I looked on my bank account and I saw a whole bunch of transactions that had been either gone through or been preauthorized," Nicholas said.
In addition to selling financial information, these hackers have another line of attack against ordinary citizens.
"It's terroristic on one level that we are going to expose you completely," the expert said.
Criminals are often turning to the Dark Net to expose detailed private information about public figures and celebrities in an aggressive form of cyber-bullying.
From President Obama to Oprah, sports stars like Michael Vick, to pop stars like Britney Spears, very personal details about their lives are being compromised.
"For the most part it is more organized groups that are using the underground Internet," the investigator said.
But there is a warning from police to potential cyber criminals: these experts are now watching and waiting to catch you.
"If we get one little piece of evidence and we can trace that back somewhere, eventually we will get you, we will find you," the investigator said.
These sales are made using an online form of currency called a bit-coin, which again allows for people to exchange money anonymously.
These are highly skilled criminals and hackers.
When it comes to those personal attacks, the best way to protect yourself is to regularly monitor your personal and financial information.
Action News Investigation, special report, special reports, wendy saltzman
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