Dark web, drugs and bitcoins send Bengaluru police into a tizzy

Published on Feb 22, 2021 09:06 AM IST

Bengaluru police opened a bitcoin account recently and told the accused to transfer his bitcoin to the account because it had to seize the cryptocurrency.

The RBI had issued guidelines about bitcoins many times but recently a revised advisory was issued regarding it on December 5, 2017.(Reuters File Photo)
The RBI had issued guidelines about bitcoins many times but recently a revised advisory was issued regarding it on December 5, 2017.(Reuters File Photo)
ByArun Dev , Hindustan Times, Bengaluru

How do you seize a Bitcoin? This was one of the several questions that puzzled Bengaluru Police while probing a hacker caught for purchasing drugs from the dark web using bitcoins in November last year. The case was among the 30 registered by the cops over the past year, wherein synthetic drugs and other contrabands were procured from the dark web.

Taking note of the surge in cases, Karnataka home minister Basavaraj Bommai last week had directed the police to focus more on crimes originating from the dark web. With the anonymity and complexity of the dark web providing a safety net for criminals, police are now forced to improvise on their conventional investigation methods to tackle the new challenge.

The dark web is a part of the internet that isn’t indexed by search engines like Google. From synthetic drugs to stolen credit cards and details of weapons, users can buy from a large inventory of contrabands from this part of the internet, without any government surveillance.

“The key here is anonymity. To access the dark web, the user has to use a browser which hides the identity and location of the user,” Sandeep Patil, joint commissioner of police (crime), said. This further makes it difficult to monitor the procurement of synthetic drugs from the dark web.

Also Read: Bitcoin hits $1 trillion market cap, soars to a record high

“We have found that many criminals have procured synthetic drugs from abroad, especially Scandinavian countries. First, we cannot track who is purchasing what from the dark web. Second, it is hard to track them when they arrive in India. To give an example, in the case of LSD, also known as acid, it is a sheet of paper. When the order arrives at an airport in India, it becomes difficult to find it among other larger consignments,” the officer added.

On November 18, while interrogating eight men who were arrested for possessing hydro marijuana, police learnt that a man had helped the gang procure the drug from Amsterdam. The arrest of Srikrishna (25), who procured these drugs via the dark web, opened the pandora’s box.

The accused confessed that he had hacked three three Bitcoin exchanges and 10 poker sites among others to procure the drugs. Bitcoins worth 9 crore were seized from him.

Unlike normal money, the officer explained, seizing the bitcoins proved to be a difficult task.

“There is no physical money, unlike other recoveries. This is a cryptocurrency that exists on the web. In this case, the police opened an account and asked the accused to transfer his bitcoins to this account. This is how we found a way around seizing cryptocurrency,” an official familiar with the probe said.

Besides this, Srikrishna, police said, would hack into people and their companies’ WiFi accounts and mirror those devices to steal credit card details among other data. In some cases, he used to resort to online extortion, where he would hack into the internal network of companies and demand ransom for not releasing the data on the dark web.

“He has sold credit cards details and much more on the dark web. We learnt a lot about the marketplaces in the dark web during this time and that there could be much more than drugs that can be obtained from the dark web,” the official added.

Police say the investigation into this new era of crime carries new challenges. Unlike other crimes, where police could survey locations or trace suspects, it is difficult to track the dark web.

“We can’t get into the details of how we are adapting to the new challenges but we are improvising on our investigation. For example, we are keeping an eye on consignments from certain countries with the help of customs,” an official from the cyber division said, preferring anonymity. However, the biggest challenge for them is expected to be the prosecution. According to police, communicating the nuances of such cyber-crimes would be hard. “In most of the cases, we have to argue hard to deny the suspect bail as the evidence against them are on the internet and they could easily destroy them. Making a strong case explaining the functioning of the dark web is also a challenge,” the official added.


    Arun Dev is an Assistant Editor with the Karnataka bureau of Hindustan Times. A journalist for over 10 years, he has written extensively on crime and politics.

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