Darpa on Trafficking

I want to start this post with the topic of trafficking. It’s going to transition into faith as most of my posts do. If you are here for one or the other, that’s fine read both or part I get it.

The world we live in is an interesting place. To sell slaves hundreds of years ago required established markets where buyers could come to make purchases. In the evolving digital age physical markets are not the only method of purchase. The rise of the “dark web” or the internet you can’t find via google or any normal web search, creates a safe haven for the bartering of trafficked victims, arms, drugs, and anything else illegal and dangerous. The dark net is not a field I’m I know much about and if you happen to be an expert please leave a comment explaining it in more detail than I am about to. The dark web came about because the US government wanted a secure means of transmitting data to intelligence assets in foreign areas. The dark web is created by using special routers known as onion routers who layer encryption to create an anonymous connection for the user. Inside the dark net websites like the Silk Road exist selling illegal goods anonymously and to anonymous buyers. Purchases are done with bitcoins usually, a digital currency that makes hunting criminals via money laundering much more difficult. All in all, though it is possible for authorities to track and eventually shutdown the buyers (the Silk Road and the Silk Road 2.0 have both been brought down by the feds) and purchasers in the dark net it is a lot harder.

Welcome to the story, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, commonly known as DARPA. DARPA is always on the edge of technology and they have some really cool robots but those you’ll need to find on your own. DARPA (who as I understand it is largely behind the existence of the dark web) is developing a program called MEMEX. MEMEX is sort of like a search engine (did I mention those don’t work/exist in the dark web?) It catalogues data on topics saving that information for when it’s needed. One of the things that makes the dark web tricky is that often ads are placed and removed before law enforcement can even find them. MEMEX would automatically be collecting trafficking posts and websites that appear in the dark web and saving all the information they can from the post, user information etc. Though DARPA didn’t build this just for the sake of trafficking, it is the item of focus during the prototype stage. Possibly because it’s a terrible and fast growing crime or it could be because it’s a business that moves all over the world at a rapid pace and would push data tracking as far as any crime could.

“In a demo conducted for 60 Minutes, White’s team showed how law enforcement could possibly track the movement of people—both trafficked and traffickers—based on data related to online advertisements for sex. The 60 Minutes piece wasn’t clear about how this was done and appeared to focus on the IP address of where the ads were hosted, implying that tracking where an ad moves from one IP address to another could reveal to law enforcement where the trafficker is located. But White says the IP address is the least important information they analyze. Instead they focus on other data points.

“Sometimes it’s a function of IP address, but sometimes it’s a function of a phone number or address in the ad or the geolocation of a device that posted the ad,” he says. “There are sometimes other artifacts that contribute to location.”

“You can imagine a scenario where people are moving around the country with women and are interested in advertising them—they post ads in different places. It can involve the same women and some of the same info like phone numbers. Via methods of connecting content through shared attributes—meaning the same number or image appearing on ads—you can create a network to understand where these things are connected and where they may be located.”

He notes that the connection from the online ads to the real world is not always accurate or a one-to-one match. “But that’s why there are investigators and prosecutors involved to do interpretation and make decisions. Darpa just creates the tech, and organizations adopt the technology to use it.”

Above piece from Wired

It’s a very cool science and what DARPA is building will help law enforcement immensely in all aspects of the criminal society using the dark web.