Search the KHIT Blog

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The future of malevolence: anonymous darkweb assassins for cryptocurrency hire

This is rather frightening. From my new Harper's issue.
The idea of an online assassination market was conceived long before it was possible to build one, and long before there was anything resembling the dark web.

In 1995, Jim Bell, an anarchist engineer who had studied at M.I.T. and worked at Intel, began writing a serialized essay titled “Assassination Politics” that proposed a theoretical framework for encouraging and crowdsourcing the murder of public officials. Inspired by a Scientific American article on the newfangled concept of encrypted “digital cash”—which did not yet exist in any meaningful way—Bell created one of the most sinister thought experiments of the early web.

The essay imagined a website or platform where users could anonymously nominate someone to be killed and pledge a dollar amount toward the bounty. They’d also be able to pay a small fee to make a “prediction”—an encrypted message that only the predictor and the site were privy to—as to when that person would be killed. Once the person was confirmed dead, the predictions would be decrypted and the pledged funds automatically transferred to the successful predictor. Implicit in the design was that the best way to predict when someone is going to die is to kill them yourself.

An ardent anarcho-libertarian, Bell was one of the more extreme cypherpunks, a group of internet privacy and cryptography advocates that coalesced around a mailing list in the early Nineties. (John Gilmore, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Timothy C. May, a senior scientist at Intel, were among the first contributors.) Bell’s own politics were animated by a pronounced distrust of government. He believed that his system would bring power to heel and usher in a new anarchic order. “If only 0.1% of the population, or one person in a thousand, was willing to pay $1 to see some government slimeball dead,” Bell wrote,

that would be, in effect, a $250,000 bounty on his head ... Perfect anonymity, perfect secrecy, and perfect security ... Chances are good that nobody above the level of county commissioner would even risk staying in office.
Since conspirators would never meet, or even be aware of one another’s identities, it would be impossible to rat anyone out. The money trail would be invisible. Back in 1995, there was no such thing as bitcoin or any other tradeable cryptocurrency, and few had access to encrypted web browsing. Now it’s easy to purchase bitcoins on any number of mainstream markets and “tumble” them so that their point of purchase is obscured. Similarly, thanks to Tor, accessing the dark web requires only opening a browser and enduring slower download speeds…
Subscribers-only paywalled long read written by Brian Merchant (BTW, I checked using a different browser while not logged in. It appears that they give up one free full read). This one essay is worth the cost of subscribing. I've been a Harper's subscriber for decades.

One more excerpt:
[Recent HS grad Alexis Stern’s] murder had apparently been ordered on a website called Camorra Hitmen, which advertised gun-for-hire services with the promise of keeping its clients anonymous.

Earlier that month, a user had logged on to Camorra Hitmen with the Tor browser—the most popular way to access the dark web—and created an account with the alias Mastermind365. Five days later, Mastermind365 sent a message asking whether it was possible for a hit man to carry out a kidnapping instead of a murder. The site’s administrator replied that it was, but it would be more expensive, because such an operation was riskier.

A week later, on July 15, Mastermind365 sent another message. “I have changed my mind since i previously spoke to you,” the user wrote.

I would not like this person to be kidnapped. Instead, i would just like this person to be shot and killed. Where, how and what with does not bother me at all. I would just like this person dead.
And with that, Mastermind365 sent more than $5,000 in bitcoin to Camorra Hitmen, along with a photo of Stern—a portrait sshe’d posted on a website she’d built in one of her classes…
Well, of late here we've just been looking at stuff like"Questioning Innovation," "America's epidemic of unkindness" and "Ethical Artificial Intelligence?" How about the ultimate in malevolent ethics, the ultimate in creepy unkindness, the worst uses of 'innovation?" Darkweb-enabled, cryptocurrency-funded anonymous murder for hire markets?
The author notes that these dark net platforms are prime real estate via which to scam gullible assassin-wannabees. You pays you bitcoins upfront and you gets hustled, who you gonna complain to--the FTC? Justice Dept Financial Crimes Unit? Serves your ignorant ass right.

Still, people have in fact been killed by cyber-nutjobs.
"Monteiro started scrolling through messages he had cached from Yura’s previous sites. The markets may have been scams, but the desire for violence was real. Monteiro had amassed a running list of people who had been singled out for death; people who’d had bounties placed on their heads, and a log of detailed conversations about how and why their would-be killers wanted them beaten, tortured, kidnapped, and murdered. It was like a Wikipedia entry for the outer extremes of human cruelty…"
While I was working on this story, journalists at BBC News Russia confirmed the first known case of a murder being ordered on the dark web and successfully carried out by hired assassins. On March 12, 2019, two young men, aged seventeen and nineteen, were arrested for the murder of a prominent investigator in Moscow who had been aggressively pursuing a drug-trafficking operation. The murder was not orchestrated over any of Yura’s scam sites, but over a standard, all-purpose dark-web marketplace similar to the Silk Road, according to Andrei Soshnikov, one of the reporters who broke the story. The killers never met the person who posted the job. They were paid anonymously, in bitcoin, and one of them attended a concert later that night.

A threshold had been crossed. For years, “dark-net hit man” stories made for good clickbait and little else. Experienced tech journalists emphatically debunked such stories as myths, because for years, that’s all they were: myths and fearmongering. But the fact that the hits didn’t happen was never really about the technology; it was an issue of trust. There has never been any serious question that the technology behind the dark web could preserve anonymity and allow users to move untraced through its pages: it absolutely can. That’s why the FBI resorts to old-fashioned methods of going undercover as drug buyers, child pornographers, and hit men in an effort to catch criminals there…


One of my recently finished reads.

Again, Amazon link embedded in the cover pic. This one also goes to my AI tech riffs, to which I will be returning soon. to wit,
The Power of Unintended Consequences

Neither Alfred Nobel nor Mikhail Kalashnikov anticipated how their inventions would be used for disruptive political violence. In the same way, the creators of the Internet, social media, and the many new and emerging technologies today have not foreseen the nefarious uses to which they’re being put. 

Today’s period of innovation is comparable to the explosive era of open technological innovation at the turn of the nineteenth century, and arguably even more potentially disruptive. Current and emerging technologies were not consciously designed to kill, as the AK-47 was; they are just as subject to popular whim, more tailored for attention-getting, and more wide-ranging in their potential applications, both good and bad. Because the current technological revolution is an open one, and because there is again so much money to be made by the diffusion of the new technologies, they have again spread rapidly and will continue to do so. Due to their accessibility and ease of use, clusters of new technologies will be combined in novel ways that are unanticipated. 

In the next part of the book, we will use the insights introduced in the first two sections to examine how today’s new and emerging technologies are already being used to raise the stakes of political violence, by enhancing the mobilization and reach of surprise attacks. We’ll also investigate how emerging breakthroughs in autonomy, robotics, and artificial intelligence may be harnessed for even more potent leverage...

Cronin, Audrey Kurth. Power to the People (pp. 167-168). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

apropos of the foregoing riff on disturbing advances in internet-facilitated violent mayhem, I am reminded of a screenplay idea that occurred to me a number of years ago back when the Silk Road thing was above the fold:

Quickie Photoshop expression.
"TM?" LOL. The joke will utterly escape those mired in the Irony-Free Zone.
I'm a long-time fan of intrigue/action flicks such as the Borne series, the Homeland series, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series, Syriana, Zero Dark Thirty, The Kingdom, Traitor, the incredible Peaky Blinders, etc etc etc. I've never written any fiction, but this dark idea seemed like something worth an effort. My idea focused on neutralizing obvious "bad guys" (e.g., terrorists, corrupt pols, and myriad egregious criminals / predators--hardly a novel concept), but the foregoing Harper's article infers a whole new dark tech-enabled level. Terminal "doxxing" of anyone who irks you on Twitter or Facebook?

I've already had my share of Chairborne Division Armrest Battalion Keyboard Kommando "death threats" for mocking simpleton anarchist militia buffoons such as the poignant Bundy sagebrush rebellion clan (The Power of Photoshop Compels Me...). And, while that hapless posse can't even pronounce "Tor" and "cryptocurrency," well...

Nah, not gonna dial it back. BYKOTA has its limits. I'm not the one advocating violence. I advocate pushback mockery of those intransigently advocating violence and intimidation.


More to come...

No comments:

Post a Comment