The Evolution of Darknets

This is interesting:

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant's side.

[...]

The other major change is the use of "dead drops" instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means - he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn't have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

The use of dead drops also significantly reduces the risk of the merchant to be discovered by tracking within the postal system. He does not have to visit any easily to surveil post office or letter box, instead the whole public space becomes his hiding territory.

Cryptocurrencies are still the main means of payment, but due to the higher customer-binding, and vetting process by the merchant, escrows are seldom employed. Usually only multi-party transactions between customer and merchant are established, and often not even that.

[...]

Other than allowing much more secure and efficient business for both sides of the transaction, this has also lead to changes in the organizational structure of merchants:

Instead of the flat hierarchies witnessed with darknet markets, merchants today employ hierarchical structures again. These consist of procurement layer, sales layer, and distribution layer. The people constituting each layer usually do not know the identity of the higher layers nor are ever in personal contact with them. All interaction is digital -- messaging systems and cryptocurrencies again, product moves only through dead drops.

The procurement layer purchases product wholesale and smuggles it into the region. It is then sold for cryptocurrency to select people that operate the sales layer. After that transaction the risks of both procurement and sales layer are isolated.

The sales layer divides the product into smaller units and gives the location of those dead drops to the distribution layer. The distribution layer then divides the product again and places typical sales quantities into new dead drops. The location of these dead drops is communicated to the sales layer which then sells these locations to the customers through messaging systems.

To prevent theft by the distribution layer, the sales layer randomly tests dead drops by tasking different members of the distribution layer with picking up product from a dead drop and hiding it somewhere else, after verification of the contents. Usually each unit of product is tagged with a piece of paper containing a unique secret word which is used to prove to the sales layer that a dead drop was found. Members of the distribution layer have to post security - in the form of cryptocurrency - to the sales layer, and they lose part of that security with every dead drop that fails the testing, and with every dead drop they failed to test. So far, no reports of using violence to ensure performance of members of these structures has become known.

This concept of using messaging, cryptocurrency and dead drops even within the merchant structure allows for the members within each layer being completely isolated from each other, and not knowing anything about higher layers at all. There is no trace to follow if a distribution layer member is captured while servicing a dead drop. He will often not even be distinguishable from a regular customer. This makes these structures extremely secure against infiltration, takeover and capture. They are inherently resilient.

[...]

It is because of the use of dead drops and hierarchical structures that we call this kind of organization a Dropgang.

Posted on January 23, 2019 at 6:20 AM • 35 Comments

Comments

Sok PuppetteJanuary 23, 2019 7:27 AM

Great.

The obvious counter to this is pervasive physical surveillance and tracking. Find the drop, then run the tape back to see who placed it.

So now we can expect LEAs to be trying to get that capability, in addition to pervasive traffic analysis and crypto back doors they're constantly asking for. It's already being prototyped in China.

SteveJanuary 23, 2019 8:48 AM

Sounds like Geocaching.com

Most areas have millions of locations that are not likely to be found, near parking/roads, but without any cameras. Hard to find without instructions, but easy to find with simple instructions.

Takes 20 seconds to hide. 30 seconds to pick up.

There's an entire sub-culture of geocaching happening around you now. Near my suburban home, there are over 500 caches within walking distance. Buying containers of all sizes is easy. Sometimes they are "nano-sized" and sometimes they are old ammo boxes. Everything inbetween is available - all weather proof and easy to place under some pine straw near a natural landmark like a sign, tree, bush, telephone pole, ... Many have magnets for placement in places most people wouldn't consider, like under street lamp enclosures. Or placed under a private mailbox. Who would look too carefully under a normal, black, mailbox for a slender magnetic box?

Google "geocaching case" to see. I've seen hollowed out bolts used. They replace the bolt on a sign with it.

DseJanuary 23, 2019 9:18 AM

There is not an infinite supply of hiding places, physical world has a smaller limit. Customers can check previous locations, and that could get violent.

HumdeeJanuary 23, 2019 9:56 AM

@dave

Awesome. I dont like to fill up comments with +1 and like tosh but such wit needs some type of approval feedback.

Impossibly StupidJanuary 23, 2019 10:49 AM

What I like about this is that I agree with everyone so far. Not only is it a very sophisticated solution to the problem, it's hard to see how it can be effective as a long-term strategy. With so much layering, the amount of loss will also certainly increase over time. It's a hierarchical variant of the (iterated) prisoner's dilemma.

It works for geocaching because that's just done for fun, with very little of real value to be gained or lost. But I'm not sure how much sense it makes for a "business" to go to the trouble of scattering your $100+ "inventory" around town in places that are enough out of the way that they're not found by random pedestrians but are still not suspicious. And do the buyer's looking to get high really want to engage in a scavenger hunt just to find their purchase?

It is unquestionably an interesting logistics problem, though, and it'll be fun to see how it evolves as new technologies become commonplace. I can easily see using drones or self-driving cars to function as a "non-dead" drop location. Heck, when the only fundamental goal is to separate the flow of money in one direction with the flow of product in the other, there are all kinds of ways that come to mind to leverage current "gig economy/crowd funding" services to function as unwitting middlemen for illegal operations.

BobJanuary 23, 2019 1:28 PM

@Dse

You are severely underestimating the number of physical hiding places available.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 23, 2019 1:53 PM

@ Impossibly Stupid,

What I like about this is that I agree with everyone so far. Not only is it a very sophisticated solution to the problem, it's hard to see how it can be effective as a long-term strategy.

Not only is it "sophisticated" it has been tested out one way or another for over a century and a half.

If you get any good book on "fieldcraft" including those issued by various parts of the US Mil / IC you will find all of these techniques and more described in them.

However one thing to remember "do not get technically adventurous". That is like geo-caching Ham radio had "Fox Hunts" where you "Direction Find" a tiny low power transmitter (think not much bigger than two/three stacked match folds) there was a variation a little like orienteering as well.

The problem is as some would say "Technology is the Devil's deceiver" it not just lets you down in all sorts of ways it also acts as a "Dead Give Away" once the opposition discover it.

The classic example was the "Fake rock" in a Moscow park that enabled an agent/spy to make an "electronic drop". Once the secret was known it did not take Russian Counter Espionage Surveillance operatives to pick people up.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/9022827/Russian-spy-rock-was-genuine-former-chief-of-staff-admits.html

Likewise there was the story about Chinese Agents getting caught and executed because the CIA was technically stupid and Google outed them from web scraping,

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/11/02/iran_cracked_cia_google/

Thus stick to what has been refined over many decades, and avoid any "Techno Buzz" especially if as is the case for by far the majority, there are technically more adept people out there who are looking to "Find, Fix and Finish" in the most terminal way they are alowed.

DropLawsJanuary 23, 2019 3:49 PM

Of course they could just legalize all drugs and actually focus on enforcing laws that protect against injurious acts, but then we wouldn't have all this exciting cloak and dagger stuff, bloated LEA budgets, and a finger-wagging, moralizing pretext to pry into everyone's lives...

AlJanuary 23, 2019 4:01 PM

@DropLaws
I also think that the Drug war needs to end. It's as much a war on taxpayers as anyone else.

These black markets facilitate cash flow to criminals, organized criminals, and terrorists. We could get a much better result by stopping this cash flow.

There could be full legalization of drugs, which would certainly stop the cash flow, and save tax payers a whole lot of money.

What I would do is legalize marijuana, and permit prescriptions to people *already* addicted to other drugs, along with an offer for rehabilitation treatment if the person so desired. That would send a message to drug pushers that once a person is addicted, they'll be no recurring cash flow, since they can get their government prescription. They'll be less overdoses as the potency of the prescription could be made constant.

The waiving of criminal prosecution of HSBC, and its executives on grounds of "too big to jail" illustrates the farce that the current drug war effort is. We can't jail a brick and mortar building, but HSBC didn't need to retain the bunch that thought laundering money for the drug cartels was a good ides.

WeatherJanuary 23, 2019 4:13 PM

Ai,Droplaws
Then the education budget increases because people become lapbotmised to learn anything.
The health budget increases because of drug injuiced mental health effect.
The police budget increases because more people have less empathy resobality and self control.
The arts and culture decreases because you can get way-out design.

Impossibly StupidJanuary 23, 2019 4:19 PM

@Bob

You are severely underestimating the number of physical hiding places available.

And I'd wager you're overestimating them. Choosing any new location has overhead and using it provides metadata to all parties involved. It's not like you're going to fool the cops (or an addict looking for a free hit) for long if you keep going back to the same general area to leave drugs in just slightly different places. There is a limit to the "resolution" you can get out of treating a GPS location like random OTP data.

@Clive Robinson

However one thing to remember "do not get technically adventurous".

I'd say that depends on the technology. Anyone looking to stay one step ahead of the competition (and/or the cops) needs to approach the problem in "road not taken" fashion. The whole darknet market is based on the idea that there are new solutions to old problems. Yes, there are new problems that also crop up along the way, but it's quite possible that technology still solves them more easily than all the old ways of doing things.

@Al

There could be full legalization of drugs, which would certainly stop the cash flow, and save tax payers a whole lot of money.

No, it would only change how the cash flowed. I mean, it's not like organized crime went out of business when they could no longer bootleg alcohol after prohibition ended. Legalized drugs just shifts the corruption around. There will always be a need to secretly move some sort of illicit material between people/places.

GweihirJanuary 23, 2019 7:19 PM

What I like in this is that it is a nice example of accelerated evolution under pressure. Obviously, those that created it did have a look into the literature available on how to do the physical part (using the postal system was never a good idea for shipping anything were the contents must remain secret) and on how to implement a cell-system. These are exceptionally resilient, as evidenced by various spy/terrorist/freedom-fighter organizations that have used them in the past.

On a side-note, this means likely the war on drugs has finally be lost completely. The rate of attrition with this system will never be high enough to do serious damage to it. Of course, those that drive these wars are not really rational or ethical people (or they would have stopped and provided safer, cheaper and legal alternatives a long time ago), so I guess it will be continued. This affords us a nice opportunity to see whether spycraft half a century old and older is still good enough today and what other modifications and additions are needed besides the ones described in this very nice article.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 24, 2019 12:00 AM

@ AI, ALL,

I also think that the Drug war needs to end. It's as much a war on taxpayers as anyone else.

It's interesting that you say "taxpayers" rather than "citizens" as it has interesting security connotations as well as fiscal denotations.

Consider those who don't pay tax, why and what the end result is not just for the various parts of society but government and it's policies.

At the bottom you have the "to young to be employed" but quickly start getting into the teen age range who many years ago would typically be payed a few shillings to do a local retail distribution job of newspapers, groceries, and other simple deliveries for shop keepers etc across the "last mile" to the consumer. Such workers did not pay tax as their earnings were never sufficient to break the tax thresholds, which through to the early 1960's mainly did not effect the majority of workers, just some senior proffesionals and those who owned the means not just of production but employment. Who in earlier times would have been "feudal lords" or "Nobility" of the "second estate"[1].

These sort of entry jobs more or less came to an end when "self service" shops and "personal transport" became the norm, in part they were replaced by "checkout" jobs. However the use of Internet shopping is bringing back the "last mile" issue in the attempt to remove checkout and shop costs.

However the delivery job is now more "proffessional" in that participents have to have driving licences and now due to inflation are above tax thresholds etc. Taxes were once payed automatically by the employer on behalf of the emoloyee, but now should be payed by the "contract" deliverer not the distributor. Because the distributor has availed themselves of various tax loop holes with regards "zero hours contracts" and the like that allows them to be "agents" not "employers". Uber cars have become an example of this sort of work provision. As many caught in this trap will tell you they take all the legal risk and the agent takes most of the fiscal reward. In the process the actual tax take to society also decreases markedly. But this does not worry those in the first estate personaly, because those in the second estate remunerate them in various ways so "their nests are well feathered". In this process society it's self suffers and it's ability to defend it's self against various ills diminishes. In effect changes that were once minnor economic issues have been turned into major economic issues and financial crises due to the lack of fiscal buffering in the national treasury system. The brunt of this instability generally falls on the taxpayers of the third estate not the tax avoiders of the second estate who have created the problem in the first place.

That is both risk and cost get pushed down onto the "third estate" by those of the "second estate" who can aford the best of lawyers and lobbyists to get what they want from the "first estate". As part of this they also engage in various ways the "fourth estate" to push their propaganda agenda.

The problem is the cost and risk is now inflicted on to those who probably can not aford even semiproffessional help with their tax payments. It is in short a more modern version of "rights striping". The result of which can only be increased arrests, convictions and incarceration rates at eye watering cost that falls onto the remaining tax payers of the third estate. Who are also probably committing inadvertantly some form of tax offence, thus only walking free by chance and lack of recources by the tax authorities. Who in the US are being increasingly prohibited from reducing the risk for taxpayers in the third estate by lobyists from various second estate interests[2].

Thus a tipping point is reached where individuals in the third estate realise that their position is such they are criminals by default, so might as well be hung for a wolf than as a sheep, and atleast enjoy the benifits of being a wolf. It is this that in effect causes the "black economy" where tax is quite deliberatly not payed as it is the difference between being able to survive in society and not.

Once that tipping point is crossed what individuals would not have considered doing prior to that becomes normalised to the same as "not paying tax to survive". Each successive crime becomes smaller and easier as previous crimes reduce fear and teach skills.

Viewed from a sufficient hight the process can be seen as one of democratization into anarchy. The second estate are not just setting an example but actively engaged in pushing the third estate into their way of business. In essence the process is to minimise if not render impotent the first estate through their own failings. Evolutionary it is survival of the fittest in action, the second estate sees the first estate as a parasite of no worth on their activities, they also fear democracy as it is in effect the "right of the majority" which the second estate is most definitely not, even though they seek to control all the assets of society, such that they rent seek on the third estate. It is an inevitable result of the "American Dream" once resources are controlled by just a few, which is again the expected result of the "American Dream"...

It's thus fairly easy to see that this forms a spiral which will take society back a millennia or so, to a very feudal and status ridden ruling hereditary elite. And in the process be extrodinarily detrimental to all the estates, thus mankind in general and the world it's self.

Thus it negitively effects the security not just of mankind but the world around us.

[1] The feudal "Estates of the realm" were the "first estate" of Monarch and Church, which in modern times would be the "Political and Governance" class. The "second estate" being the Nobility who in effect owned the land which was the only source of employment thus in modern times "businessman and employers" class. And the "third estate" of freemen, villains, beggers and peasents who formed the "Commoners", who in modern times would be the waged and salaried "employed" or "working" class. However as power structures changed and what was to become the legal and academic professions split away from the church to give the "professional" class we got the "forth estate" of professional journalists of the Main Stream Media (MSM) which the first estate generally regard as "usefull fools" these days. Which is probably why in the last half century the rise of the "fifth estate" of citizen-actavists and grass-roots reporters such as "bloggers" have appeared. Who mainly do not receive remuneration for their efforts but can exert significant force on the "first estate" from what appears to the first estate as the "outfield" beyond their control, thus a cause of considerable anxiety. Hence the push and support by the first estate of the "Collect it all" policies of the SigInt and other Guard Labour forces.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estates_of_the_realm

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/business/taxes/turbotax-h-r-block-spend-millions-lobbying-us-keep-doing-n736386

PeterJanuary 24, 2019 12:02 AM

Dead drops are great IF both parties live in the same city. It does nothing to solve the problem of a postal delivery.

Denton ScratchJanuary 24, 2019 3:33 AM

The drop-box scheme assumes that merchant and customer are located reasonably close to one-another. In a big city, with lots of merchants and lots of customers, that might work; in a small town, customers are going to have to choose from a rather slim list of merchants.

The use of 'invite-only' channels sounds a bit career-limiting. It's easy enough to find out how to log in to a darknet market; but how are you supposed to get an invite to a private channel? By visiting a darknet market, and contacting a merchant? That seems to defeat the object. Is there another way?

By the way, I found it annoying that the authors consistently used the spelling 'lead' for the word 'led'. If you pronounce 'lead' the same as 'led', then it is a soft metal, not the past-participle of the verb 'to lead'. I'm sorry, I can't help it - I'm a pedant.

WinterJanuary 24, 2019 5:25 AM

@Impossibly
"Legalized drugs just shifts the corruption around."

Liquor and Tobacco are among the most addictive substances available. A lot of money goes around in these industries. But there is none of the horrible side effects of the War-On-Drugs.

Note that some of the side-effects of the WOD are intentional: Criminalizing minorities and young political activists.
https://www.aei.org/publication/the-shocking-and-sickening-story-behind-nixons-war-on-drugs-that-targeted-blacks-and-anti-war-activists/

DavidJanuary 24, 2019 5:40 AM

This scheme depends on modern children not playing outside. If a significant number of the drops are randomly found before pickup, there is a dispute between the disappointed buyer and the seller.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 24, 2019 7:21 AM

@ Winter,

But there is none of the horrible side effects of the War-On-Drugs.

With regards Nixon and his successors and similar in other countries, these are not "horrible side effects" but almost certainly the primary designed purpose.

One of the simple rules of leadership is to establish a perpetual threat to the vulnerable in your ranks, such as the young in society. So if there is not a threat then you have to create one. You then use this threat to establish an underclass in society which others who do not realy think then follow the propaganda and blaim societies ills on them rather than the politicians. Who then do what they want behind this cover of "Barbarians at the gate" or "Enemies / fifth columnists within" or just plain simple "Un American behaviour". Unfortunatly the majority out of lack of thought jump behind this, in the theory it's better to be with the mob marching forwards rather than get trampled benethe the mods feet.

In part it's the old "see I have nothing up my sleave" trick as you "pocket the gold coin with the other hand" which stage magicians have practiced for centuries.

It was once observed "Like the clergy, the only poor politician is the honest politician" with the subtext that neither honest priests nor honest politicians will either last or gain power to use honestly.

As many people have found, for the majority fame and fortune are at best not made by lone honest toil they are led to believe when young. You either have some inbuilt natural advantage by small probability of chance we call luck that you then work very hard, or have your path through life assisted by others. Otherwise you have to "get an edge" somehow which is often a code phrase for not being entirely honest, or associating with "fixers" or "enablers" and others who are not entirely honest. In otherwords those who probably would be crooks or assisted by those who would be crooks, if honest politicians made honest laws that were applied honestly by honest guard labour.

There is a reason for the "one rotten apple spoils the barrel" saying. Less than honest people at best skate at the thin edge where dubious behaviour is rife, but potentialy not yet legislated against (think how insider trading legislation and anti bribery etc legislation came to be).

These people know what they are doing is not just less than honest but decidedly wrong, which is why they expect significant reward for their behaviour. Behaviour that is often driven by an inbuilt sense of entitlement in a sociopathic mind set. As such self entitled people gain power they get their reward in part by patronage, or in effect by saying who they alow to succeed or not. Thus others see that honesty does not pay, thus likewise become less honest which in turn is seen by others, fairly soon "an honest man is hard to find"... With the consequence we have a Banking Crisis or similar major mess to clean up. Not that such people care as they already acept no responsability, but are busy ploting not just how to avoid any future consequences but also importantly how to get their next self justified "rightful entitlement"... Thus the easy route for them is to pay off the legislators, because if their behaviour is not legislated against, then it must be legal, thus they carry on. The bribes they pay are just a small pay off in comparison to the profit they envisage, thus are just "part of the cost of doing business" the way they want.

An out going US President once warned of this, in specific he named the "Military Industrial Complex", but you only have to look back to the Cattle Barrons, Railroad Barrons, Coal Barrons Oil Barrons etc to see the early history of such behaviours in the US. Each generation brings forward new aspirants with a sense of entitlement within a sociopathic mind set, who then play their games at the edge of legislation. Each time a new law is passed they see new opportunity to profit at others expense and so the wheel turns.

Just remember "The Great and the Good" is an oxymoron, and you won't be unsurprised in general.

VinnyGJanuary 24, 2019 9:03 AM

@Clive Robinson re: low-level employment - overall, that was a pretty good analysis. I don't know how it was in the UK, but in the US, there were two major (possibly the most important,) inter-related, causative factors in the shift away from such jobs that you didn't seem to mention: minimum wage increases, and the disappearance of "under-the-table" jobs.

SlagJanuary 24, 2019 9:44 AM

One of the interesting things about this concept is that isn't just happening on dark nets with illicit goods, it's happening for other platforms as well. Suppliers are realizing that the platform owns the customer list and several times as facebook/youtube/amazon have changed the rules for supplier access to customer the supplier usually ends having to pay extra to the platform. In response, the suppliers are looking to arrange a more controlled interaction with their customer base. For the legal side, it's the return of the email list as opposed to dead drops.

mrc1980January 24, 2019 10:26 AM

Browse Imgur on random to see hundreds of dead drops across the world.
Never underestimate the nosy neighbor.
An associate was telling me how he though there was a drug ring in his neighborhood, with people going to the same spot multiple times a day and leaving.

Then showed me the cache he found with a hollowed out log and notes in it. He was going to call the police and confront the dastardly criminals.
I pulled up my geocaching app and showed him the error of his ways.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 24, 2019 10:31 AM

@ Jeremy,

Are you sure you're not overestating your case? ;^)

Heaven forbid 0:)

But more seriously "time will tell" and hopefully I will at some point be wrong, if for no other reason than I have a desire to be not just remembered by my descendants, but for them to be in good health both physically and mentally, in the comfort that modest wealth brings and good prospects for longevity when they do so. The last thing I would want is anybody saying in future times "by god they had it good in grampa's time". Society should move onwards and upwards, not regress to some tyranical past...

But of one thing we can be certain, at some point the last human will walk upon planet earth, it's unavoidable. However the manner and end of that walk is not. I hope it will be because we have left for other parts of the universe to find answers to questions we don't yet know exist.

MikeAJanuary 24, 2019 10:42 AM

@Slag I am definitely not a fan of how sites like Amazon deal with honest merchants while enabling counterfeiters and scammers, but their attempt to control the channel between supplier and buyer is not entirely unwarranted.

Back in the 90s I found a (moderately) rare technical book on used-book site, and "bought" it, only to be told (via the site) that it was unavailable, having been recently sold. That was oddly high demand for a physics book from 1951 that had been listed for some time before I "bit". Anyway, a day or so later I got an email directly from the seller stating that the other sale had fallen through, and if I was still interested I could buy it directly from them. I wanted the book, so I did purchase it, but not without wondering how high the site's cut was to motivate this obvious technique of using the site for advertising while avoiding their commission.

Impossibly StupidJanuary 24, 2019 12:19 PM

@Denton Scratch

The use of 'invite-only' channels sounds a bit career-limiting. It's easy enough to find out how to log in to a darknet market; but how are you supposed to get an invite to a private channel? By visiting a darknet market, and contacting a merchant? That seems to defeat the object. Is there another way?

The old-school way: real life social networks. You get an invite because you established trust with a friend who has a connection. People are slowly waking up to the fact that a lot of the online world is fake. Even "legitimate" markets like Amazon have merchants gaming their ratings and reputation. You cut through a lot of that commodifed nonsense when you deal with an (illegal) subculture that spreads information by word of mouth. No, it's probably not going to be as big a market as if you just dealt drugs with every random stranger, but when you're breaking the law you're probably wise to leave those highest risk customers on the table.

@Winter

Liquor and Tobacco are among the most addictive substances available. A lot of money goes around in these industries. But there is none of the horrible side effects of the War-On-Drugs.

You're lying to yourself. Innocent citizens are harassed en mass at sobriety checkpoints. Individuals selling loose cigarettes are killed. But my main point, corruption simply switching markets, was about going into other products rather than "legal" drugs. Guns or gambling or prostitution or anything that remains illegal will attract the type of people who have built skills in evading the law. Like Clive said, many of these techniques being used are established spycraft. As long as people/nations disagree on what sorts of behaviors are acceptable, there will be a shady ecosystem thriving along that gradient.


@mrc1980

I pulled up my geocaching app and showed him the error of his ways.

The thing is, using an existing geocaching site offers excellent plausible deniability, at least temporarily. If I ever had the need to dead drop something, I'd get ready by doing a bunch of geocaching. Then I'd just either leave the item at one of those sites, or create a new site that gets published after I'm done with it. It's just the kind of hobby an authoritarian regime will crack down on in a "this is why we can't have nice things" manner.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 24, 2019 12:20 PM

@ VinnyG,

... causative factors in the shift away from such jobs that you didn't seem to mention: minimum wage increases, and the disappearance of "under-the-table" jobs.

It's difficult to tell. In the UK there is a definite correlation between the increase in "zero hours contracts" with "on site waiting" and the introduction of statutory minimum wages. A very well known burger chain was caught using "on site waiting" as a way not to pay people. In essence they had to be on site for upto 12hours but only got payed for "customer facing time" which could be as little as a couple of hours. The individual premises managers would decide who got the payed time by the amount of unpaid waiting time cleaning, restocking and prep work you did, or as cash kick backs...

As I've mentioned befor in South West London there is Kingston Hospital that has almost compleately outsourced it's housekeeping and maintainence work. The house keeping was given to a well known outsourcing company in the hotel and hospitality industry. One day the police swooped on the hospital and arrested around 50% of the house keeping staff because they were illegals and the three contract managers for the outsourcing company. Essentially the contract managers were claiming legal staff who they had pushed out were still working there and from what was said at the time collecting their wages in cash. The managers then payed some fraction of this "cash in hand"[1] to an illegal and apparently pocketed the rest (though there were claims it was getting "kicked back" up the managment chain). Needless to say both the hospital managment and off site outsourcing company managment denied any knowledge of this and got their lawyers and PR people to hide behind. As far as I'm aware the same outsourcing company is now doing even more contract work for the hospital...

However there is also another down side over four decades ago the rate I got payed per hour for a summer job was no that far short of the normal experienced adult rate. However in the UK today the government has set a ridiculously low minimum wage for "under 18s" such that it just about covers cost of transport and food from a sandwich shop. Adjusting for real inflation and cost of living etc I was earning about 15times todays rate. To give you an idea back at college 5GBP covered four bus journies and a hot meal five days a week, now you would be looking at 60GBP a week or 12 times as much. Worse the quality of the food is crap in comparison it's all fast carbs, suger and bad oils that will give first a sugar hit head ache followed by a sugar low with attendent cognative low. It won't get you through half the afternoon let alone through to breakfast and some days the following day lunch as it did back then.

So in some respects "minimum wage" means "fixed low wage rate everywhere" and the only way to earn more is through excessive hours or multiple jobs. As you can appreciate this puts tremendous power in the hands of low end managment, many of whom will get "favours" in one form or another including cash kick backs and in some cases sex...

One issue that has been made much of during the run up to the Brexit Referendum was "illegals" pretending to be EU citizens. Apparently in some newer EU countries it was not difficult to get genuine documents either by bribary or a little skill at manipulating the system. Whilst this has now to a limited extent been clamped down upon since Syria and surounding regeions got extreamly violent it apparently still goes on. What does amaze me is that many who could have got EU citizenship in Germany or other EU countries tried repeatedly --untill death in some cases-- to get into the UK where they would not have got citizenship, healthcare, socialcare or any other benifit and would have been effectively forced into "the black economy" which is extreamly exploitative. For instance in Lewisham SE London the council have discovered several condemed buildings that have been illegaly converted into multiple occupancy with sheds and garages built in gardens to take more people. With as many as fifty people none of whom can speak a word of english cramed into a 1500SqFt small family house with garage, garden shed and roof space being used. In one case all apparently worked for a "Polish" building contractor who likewise could apparently not speak either english or polish but did understand a little "ukranian"...

What draws people to the UK like moths to flame I have no idea but come they do. Many in dangerous boats crossing the Mediterranean in winter with estimated deaths in the thousands a year for over two decades,

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/20/the-list-europe-migrant-bodycount

As some of the figures show they are not wanted in the EU despite what politicians say, hence the murders and violence etc committed by gangs and others.

The illegal "slave workers" come from all over the world, some are put to work in "nail bars" some in brothels some in food harvesting or processing, we only get tiny glimpses because in the main the authorities do not want to know for various reasons not least of which is politicians don't want it known how their immigration control policies fail and fail badly.

But it's not just illegals used as slaves, kids kicked out of "child care" end up on the streets of cities to be preyed upon and abused in all maner of ways. Again politicians at all levels do not want to know, agencies are under funded under staffed and under qualified to the point of compleate disfunction.

The reason for the shortages well thats "Austerity" which is another word that means a lot different to it's dictionary definition. To put it politely it's the first estate giving it's payed for kick backs to the second estate very much at the cost of the third estate. With most of the fourth estate conveniently for the first estate looking in all the wrong directions. And unsurprisingly members of the first estate saying that members of the fifth estate who do look the right way are terrorists or funded by Russians or any other nonsense the first estate thinks will discredit those of the fifth estate...

[1] I'm guessing the UK "cash in hand" is in part equivalent to "under the table".

GweihirJanuary 24, 2019 1:41 PM

@Clive Robinson:

With regards Nixon and his successors ...

Nicely summarizes what happens when you have people in power that want/need to be in power. I have thought for a long time that wanting to be in power is _the_ primary thing that makes you unsuitable to have that power. We would probably do significantly better if we took a bunch of random people from the street each year, filtered out those that are psychos and put the rest in power as a forced community service for that year to make the decisions. And that is obviously a bad solution.

PhaeteJanuary 24, 2019 2:54 PM

As others already noted, dead drops are local.
Thus severely restricting business.

Local dealers started using the darknets for their business and brought with them the local habits.

The full bot driven experiences are in a different area, where the goods are digital and not physical, like buying CC, personal infos or stress testing.

The writing has been hugely influenced by american series and movies, painting a picture of a full on tech, using all appropriate methods, highly organised and compartmentalised crime gang.
I am just missing the character flaws that make the dealer a lovable scumbag with a love interest side story.

Reading accounts of actual investigations, like Ross Ulbricht and others will dispel some of the hollywood created expectations most people have after they saw breaking bad, el chapo and dozens of other hollywood productions.

VinnyGJanuary 24, 2019 7:18 PM

@Clive Robinson re: minimum wage - I was speaking to my direct experience on the issue. I grew up in a "summer resort" area. Minimum wage at the time was on the order of $1 US per hour. "Under the table" jobs were common, nearly ubiquitous in many of the types of businesses that had to make their money in 3 - 4 months time. Very few of the minimum wage jobs, and virtually none of the off the books variety, were filled by adults who needed to support a family, or even provide their own food and shelter. Those jobs were for local teenagers and vacationing college students who wanted to earn spending money, or save up for a first automobile, or for education expenses. Restaurants only had to attest that wait staff made at least enough in tips to make up the difference between salary and the minimum wage rate. In turn, common practice was for the wait staff to report earning only minimum, or slightly over, for income tax purposes. On a really good night, a waitress could take home $100 or more in tips, tax free (a quite respectable sum at the time.) The only real loser in that system, at least in my area, was the government. After the state tightened the noose on all of those practices, seasonal jobs for young people pretty much dried up, and operating expenses for restaurant and many other seasonal businesses increased significantly, causing no small number to fail. The failures also increased general unemployment, since even seasonal businesses require some full-time, permanent employees. Ultimately, the seasonal resort character of the area was largely diminished; unfortunately that character was what best suited the local resources. Bottom line is that in almost every objective or subjective respect, the general quality of life in the area was worse, not better, as a result of the intervention.

VinnyGJanuary 24, 2019 7:28 PM

@Gweihir re: people wanting power - I completely agree, and that character fault is hardly restricted to Nixon & ilk. Every politician is motivated by the lust for power, no matter what lofty goals are cited to justify that lust to themselves and others.

Tom_12January 28, 2019 2:06 AM

Clive - I mostly lurk on this website as I'm no security expert but I do find it interesting at times to read some of the articles here.

In your discussion about taxes, min. wage etc. I thought I would direct your attention to the following book,

"The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty (Simon & Schuster America Collection) by William Hogeland"

You and some of the others may find it interesting.

Cheers

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