The darknet is not as secretive as it was thought earlier. A recent research indicates that many darknet vendors may have unwittingly announced their location on various deepweb marketplaces.
According to researchers Paul Lisker and Michael Rose, the images of drugs and other products shared by darknet vendors may contain embedded geographical coordinates pointing out their location. The sensitive, damning information is found on images, stored as metadata which is part of the Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) used by digital cameras and smartphones.
If a darknet vendor has uploaded pictures of the product captured using a GPS enabled device, then the images may have stored his exact geographical coordinates. By analyzing the image’s metadata, law enforcement officials can easily end up at the vendor’s doorstep or at least identify his general location.
These two Harvard researchers have proven their point by researching and analyzing drug listings on various darknet marketplaces. By using the geographical location data associated with the images, they have also created an interactive map, marking the possible geographical location of various vendors.
During the course of research, it was found that only a small percentage of vendors were careless enough to share images with their metadata intact. Many vendors and marketplaces have been careful enough to strip the images of their metadata and other identifiable information before uploading them.
Paul and Michael started analyzing the images from deepweb marketplaces as a part of their project on privacy and technology. Since then they have analyzed over 7.5 million images and found 229 unique images in the process.
While, it is quite possible for the law enforcement agencies to use geographical location data to hunt darknet drug dealers, it might not be the most effective approach, as the metadata can be manipulated by adding fake coordinates.
The darknet is considered to be the safest place to conduct illegal transactions, including those concerning drugs and contraband. The use of cryptocurrencies for transactions makes it further difficult for the law enforcement agencies to track and apprehend the perpetrators. Still, there is always a margin for error which may lead to a prison sentence for both the vendors and administrators of these marketplaces.
Ref: DeepDotWeb | Rose Lisker - Medium