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  1. In the last decade, cybercrime has risen considerably. One key factor is the proliferation of online cybercrime communities, where actors trade products and services, and also learn from each other. Accordingly, understanding the operation and behavior of these communities is of great interest, and they have been explored across multiple disciplines with different, often quite novel, approaches. This survey explores the challenges inherent to the field and the methodological approaches researchers used to understand this space. We note that, in many cases, cybercrime research is more of an art than a science. We highlight the good practices and propose a list of recommendations for future cybercrime community scholars, including taking steps to verify and validate results, establishing privacy and ethical research practices, and mitigating the challenge of ground truth data.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 23, 2025
  2. Automated monitoring of dark web (DW) platforms on a large scale is the first step toward developing proactive Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI). While there are efficient methods for collecting data from the surface web, large-scale dark web data collection is often hindered by anti-crawling measures. In particular, text-based CAPTCHA serves as the most prevalent and prohibiting type of these measures in the dark web. Text-based CAPTCHA identifies and blocks automated crawlers by forcing the user to enter a combination of hard-to-recognize alphanumeric characters. In the dark web, CAPTCHA images are meticulously designed with additional background noise and variable character length to prevent automated CAPTCHA breaking. Existing automated CAPTCHA breaking methods have difficulties in overcoming these dark web challenges. As such, solving dark web text-based CAPTCHA has been relying heavily on human involvement, which is labor-intensive and time-consuming. In this study, we propose a novel framework for automated breaking of dark web CAPTCHA to facilitate dark web data collection. This framework encompasses a novel generative method to recognize dark web text-based CAPTCHA with noisy background and variable character length. To eliminate the need for human involvement, the proposed framework utilizes Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) to counteract dark web background noise and leverages an enhanced character segmentation algorithm to handle CAPTCHA images with variable character length. Our proposed framework, DW-GAN, was systematically evaluated on multiple dark web CAPTCHA testbeds. DW-GAN significantly outperformed the state-of-the-art benchmark methods on all datasets, achieving over 94.4% success rate on a carefully collected real-world dark web dataset. We further conducted a case study on an emergent Dark Net Marketplace (DNM) to demonstrate that DW-GAN eliminated human involvement by automatically solving CAPTCHA challenges with no more than three attempts. Our research enables the CTI community to develop advanced, large-scale dark web monitoring. We make DW-GAN code available to the community as an open-source tool in GitHub. 
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    The information privacy of the Internet users has become a major societal concern. The rapid growth of online services increases the risk of unauthorized access to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of at-risk populations, who are unaware of their PII exposure. To proactively identify online at-risk populations and increase their privacy awareness, it is crucial to conduct a holistic privacy risk assessment across the internet. Current privacy risk assessment studies are limited to a single platform within either the surface web or the dark web. A comprehensive privacy risk assessment requires matching exposed PII on heterogeneous online platforms across the surface web and the dark web. However, due to the incompleteness and inaccuracy of PII records in each platform, linking the exposed PII to users is a non-trivial task. While Entity Resolution (ER) techniques can be used to facilitate this task, they often require ad-hoc, manual rule development and feature engineering. Recently, Deep Learning (DL)-based ER has outperformed manual entity matching rules by automatically extracting prominent features from incomplete or inaccurate records. In this study, we enhance the existing privacy risk assessment with a DL-based ER method, namely Multi-Context Attention (MCA), to comprehensively evaluate individuals’ PII exposure across the different online platforms in the dark web and surface web. Evaluation against benchmark ER models indicates the efficacy of MCA. Using MCA on a random sample of data breach victims in the dark web, we are able to identify 4.3% of the victims on the surface web platforms and calculate their privacy risk scores. 
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