Motive behind dark web selfie
NSW police were able to arrest a man after he allegedly posted a selfie with his name and signature on the dark web in an attempt to obtain illegal weapons.
Now, experts say that this is part of a "marked increase" in crimes linked to the secretive corners of the internet.
Hai Po Zhang was caught by police in a western Sydney park after police believe he posted a picture of himself along with his name and signature in a bid to illegally collect a number of firearms, The Daily Telegraph reports.
It is alleged the 28-year-old accessed a supposedly anonymous part of the internet's dark underbelly where he used cryptocurrency to buy a Glock, an AK-47 and an Uzi Micro rifle.
This is one of the first cases of its kind, with Zhang allegedly using the pseudonym "silly112" to pay for the weapons illegally.
Griffith University adjunct professor Bill Caelli told news.com.au there has been a "marked increase" in this type of criminal activity in Australia.
"Essentially the dark web consists of a bunch of these websites that host a range of illegal activities," he said.
"These sites usually work in one of three ways: They hide the domain address so it is more difficult to find, they will avoid having an address at all and users will have to know the IP address to enter the site or they will have the entry to the site hidden behind another innocuous name."
Prof Caelli warned that the people behind these websites weren't just focusing on one thing, such as selling guns; they were running multiple criminal activities.
"Another trend that we have been noticing is that the people running these dark web domains will try and attack the people who use them and take over their machines and use them to further their activities," he said.
"So even though these people are their customers, even they are not safe from being attacked."
A police statement obtained by The Daily Telegraph alleges Zhang used the online currency to buy the guns on April 27. He then arranged to meet the seller and collect his items at Sydney's Bicentennial Park in May where he was intercepted by police.
"The accused met with another male and during the meeting produced a security token which was obtained through the dark web for confirmation of the accused's identity," the police facts claim.
At Burwood Local Court prosecutors alleged that Zhang opened the cryptocurrency account specifically with the intent of buying the firearms, for which he paid an agreed upon price of
"Police will allege that account was used for the purposes of purchasing the firearms," the police prosecutor said.
Zhang's lawyer Chris Eliopoulos countered this argument saying it was possible his client was buying the weapons for a third party and not for personal use.
Police also alleged Zhang showed intention of importing drugs, using the code name "bricks" during his online communications.
An Organised Crime In Australia report published by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission found that technology that facilitates the continual growth of the dark web was one of the key enablers of organised crime.
Improving technology helps organised crime groups expand their online trading of illicit goods via the dark net in a way that reduces visibility to law enforcement.
According to the report, the two main areas allowing these trades to take place are virtual currencies and encryption.
"Virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, are increasingly being used by serious and organised crime groups as they are a form of currency that can be sold anonymously online, without reliance on a central bank or financial institution to facilitate transactions," the report states.
These currencies are used in different dark web marketplaces to buy illicit drugs, firearms, chemicals used to make drugs and child exploitation materials.
"Australia's use of dark-net marketplaces is expected to grow, given the increasing popularity of online trading and the perceived anonymity such marketplaces provide," the report read.
Zhang applied for bail last week, offering to forfeit $1 million surety in order to be subjected to what would effectively be "house arrest".
But his bid was refused by the magistrate on the grounds that the allegations from police were "quite alarming".
Zhang will face court again on July 5.