Government targets dark web with £50m cybercrime funding boost

Local police will also receive funding for training and the establishment of dedicated online crime units

Home secretary Amber Rudd has pledged that the government will come down hard on the dark web as part of a £50m investment in boosting the UK’s cyber law enforcement capabilities.

During a speech at the National Cyber Security Centre’s CYBERUK 18 event in Manchester this week, Rudd revealed that the government is to put more than £9m into fighting the criminal activity that takes place on the dark web. The money will be used to bolster the National Crime Agency’s Dark Web Intelligence Unit, as well as the anti-dark web operations of the UK’s security and intelligence agencies.

The dark web uses internet connectivity but, unlike most parts of the world wide web, it has been deliberately hidden, and is only accessible to users via authorisation or the use of special browsing software. Users of the dark web can trade on the anonymity it offers to buy or sell illegal goods and services, or engage in other illicit activities.

Rudd said: “A sickening shopping list of services and products are available. You can buy half a kilogram of Fentanyl, the drug responsible for over 20,000 overdose deaths in the US in the last year alone, for around £5 a gram. Alternatively, you can get a semi-automatic pistol for less than the price of a second-hand car. And, for both, you can pay in Bitcoin.”

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She added: “There are sites that live-stream child abuse to order, space for terrorists to plot and share their murderous expertise, and the option of ordering drugs to doorsteps.”

Recent months have brought some high-profile convictions for criminals operating on the dark web, including five men in Manchester who generated revenue of more than £800,000 from selling illegal drugs via the now-defunct Silk Road site, which was shut down by the FBI in 2013. Last month the quintet were sentenced to a cumulative total of 56 years in prison.

The home secretary also singled out the case of convicted paedophile Matthew Falder who, earlier this year, received the harshest sentence yet imposed for crimes committed on the dark web. Cases such as his demonstrate the need for more funding to combat dark web crime, she said.

“Falder [was] a prolific and sickening paedophile operating on the dark web, who admitted 137 charges and was sentenced to 32 years – the largest sentence we’ve seen handed down for dark web activity to date,” Rudd said. 

She added: “It took the combined skills and expertise of the NCA, the security and intelligence agencies, and our strong working partnership with other countries to catch him. It’s vitally important that we have the ability to tackle more cases like this in the future.”

Another chunk of the £50m anti-cybercrime funding pot will be given out to local and regional police organisations, who will receive a cumulative £5m to establish dedicated cybercrime-focused units. 

“Currently, only 30% of local police forces have a cyber capability that reaches the minimum standard – and as crime changes, policing needs to change too,” Rudd said.

“A sickening shopping list of services and products are available on the dark web”
Amber Rudd, home secretary

At a national level, the government will be supported by the National Police Chiefs Council in developing a cyber-investigations training programme for the police and the wider criminal justice system.

A total of £3m will also be invested by the government in CyberAware, a national campaign dedicated to educating companies and individuals on how best to protect themselves from cybercrime.

Rudd added: “In addition, there will be more money to support victims of cybercrime, improving the information they have on how their crime is progressing and being dealt with.”


Sam Trendall

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