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UK Firm Develops Search Engine For Dark Web

(c) Sky News 2015

The dark net and the deep web are sometimes called the parts of the internet that you cannot Google (Xetra: A0B7FY - news) . But a British cyber security firm has developed its own search engine for both, as well as for IRC (basically, chatrooms).

Alistair Paterson, CEO of Digital Shadows, demos the tech in the corner room of his company’s 42nd-floor office in Canary Wharf. “Basically, it’s a Google for Tor,” he explains.

There are similar efforts. DARPA, the experimental labs of the US Department of Defence, is developing something called Memex and there is Flashpoint , which focuses on extremism on the dark web. There is also Grams , which indexes dark web marketplaces.

But Mr Paterson says his search engine is the most comprehensive to date. He types in 'money laundering' and it instantly returns 2,603 results, displayed just like a Google page except each page also gets a thumbnail screenshot alongside.

One result is a page called "Money Laundering and You-an Introduction", and you can see comments left in the chat forum ("When tumbling BTC, use Helix"). Mr Paterson enters another term, "AK-47", and gets 2,533 results.

Mr Paterson says the search engine "sucks in pages in real time and analyses them. We have some analysts direction. It’s helpful we have two Russian speakers as well. So the system is running all the time, but it’s directed by humans."

Why search the dark web? Digital Shadows is not trying to run down drug or arms dealers and unmask them. Instead, it is protecting companies.

In one instance, the system automatically found a bank employee who was offering customers’ log in details for online banking for £50 a pop. Digital Shadows took that information to the bank, which tracked down the employee.

A company’s digital footprint now extends far further than its servers. It includes employees' social media accounts, contractors’ websites, internet-connected devices like cars, and so on.

Digital Shadows tries to monitor all of these. The dark web is just another source.

That sort of proactive approach to cyber security is becoming more common.

The old mentality in cyber security was not too far away from hiding behind the walls of a castle, repairing the original breach.

The new generation of cyber security companies actively manage threats, whether inside the network, like the Mike Lynch-backed start up Darktrace, or looking out from the walls like Digital Shadows.