In the late 1990s, amid the evolving landscape of the digital age, two research
organizations within the US Department of Defence embarked on a mission to
create a clandestine network designed to safeguard sensitive communications of
US intelligence agents. The goal was to establish an encrypted and anonymized
platform beyond the reach of ordinary internet users.
This initiative laid the
foundation for what would become the Tor network, short for "The Onion Router,"
named for its multiple layers of encryption. While the original intention of
creating a secret network for spies was not fully realized, the Tor network
found an unexpected calling. Researchers saw its potential as a tool for
safeguarding privacy and anonymity, leading to the establishment of a nonprofit
focused on providing these features for human rights activists and privacy
The Tor network, operating on the fringes of the internet, became the
underlying technology of the dark web-a collection of hidden sites inaccessible
via regular browsers and unindexed by popular search engines like Google.
Today, the Tor network hosts over 65,000 unique URLs ending with onion, with
various functions ranging from communication platforms to marketplaces. A
significant portion of these functions supports legal and legitimate activities
in free societies, providing a lifeline for individuals living under oppressive
regimes, allowing access to information, and protecting against political
However, the same privacy and anonymity that make the dark web a
haven for political dissidents and privacy advocates also create fertile ground
for illicit activities. Arms trafficking, drug dealing, and the dissemination of
exploitative content, including pornography and violent images, are prevalent on
the dark web.
The integration of dark web services with cryptocurrencies, such
as Bitcoin, has further fuelled expectations of a boom in criminal activities.
Despite the growth of illicit transactions on the dark web, it remains a small
fraction of global illicit commerce. Yet, the challenges posed by the dark web
activities-ranging from child exploitation to arms trafficking-require
international attention from regulators, financial institutions, and law
enforcement agencies. Striking a delicate balance between protecting liberal
principles and eradicating criminal activities on the dark web is the
overarching challenge faced by authorities.
Efforts to address these challenges have seen progress, including improved
information sharing, enhanced technical capabilities of law enforcement
agencies, and regulation of cryptocurrency transactions. Global initiatives,
such as those by Interpol and the European Union, have led to the identification
and shutdown of major illicit dark web sites.
Law enforcement agencies,
including the FBI, have conducted operations to "de-anonymize" Tor servers,
resulting in the takedown of prominent dark web marketplaces. The growing
recognition of the role of cryptocurrencies in fuelling dark web activities has
prompted regulatory responses. International bodies, such as the Financial
Action Task Force, have issued guidance to enhance the scrutiny of
However, the fast-evolving landscape, including the
impending launch of Facebook's cryptocurrency, Libra, underscores the need for
ongoing efforts to regulate and monitor virtual assets. In navigating the
complex terrain of the dark web, liberal societies face the challenge of
protecting free expression and privacy while preventing illegal and immoral
This requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the dual nature
of the dark web-anonymity for those in need and a platform for criminal
enterprises-demanding constant vigilance from regulators and law enforcement
agencies to preserve the benefits of an anonymized network while curbing its
potential for abuse.
Overview of Individual Rights
Fundamental Rights and Freedoms
The Constitutional foundation of India, deeply rooted in Part III, establishes
fundamental rights that serve as the bedrock of individual liberties. These
rights, ranging from the right to equality and freedom of speech to the right to
life, create a robust framework empowering citizens and safeguarding them from
unwarranted state intrusion. Among these fundamental rights, the recognition of
the right to privacy stands out as particularly noteworthy.
provides a broad spectrum of fundamental rights, and within this framework, the
right to privacy emerges as a pivotal component, intricately linked to the
broader concept of personal liberty. The judicial affirmation of the right to
privacy as a fundamental right, as exemplified in the landmark case of K.S.
Puttaswamy v. Union of India
(2015), marks a transformative moment in the
evolution of individual rights in India.
This judicial recognition acknowledged
the inherent link between personal liberty and the right to privacy, elevating
privacy to the status of a fundamental right. The interrelation is evident - the
constitutional foundation establishes a comprehensive array of fundamental
rights, and within this spectrum, the right to privacy emerges as a crucial
facet, influencing and shaping the contours of personal liberty, especially in
the context of the digital age.
Digital Rights and Privacy
The emergence of the digital age brings forth a new dimension to individual
rights - digital rights. As individuals increasingly engage with digital
platforms, the protection of personal information becomes paramount. The
evolution of technology demands an extension of traditional rights into the
digital realm, recognizing the need to adapt legal frameworks to address
However, this digital landscape also poses challenges.
Issues such as data breaches and online surveillance underscore the evolving
nature of individual rights. The interrelation lies in the dynamic relationship
between technology and legal frameworks. The challenges in the digital sphere
emphasize the necessity of adapting legal safeguards to address contemporary
issues, ensuring that the protection of individual rights remains relevant and
robust in the face of technological advancements.
Legal Framework for Individual Rights Protection
The legal framework, deeply rooted in the Constitution, serves as the backbone
for individual rights protection in India. Constitutional safeguards, enshrined
in Part III, create a delicate balance between individual freedoms and the
state's authority. These safeguards act as a shield against arbitrary state
actions, ensuring that the rights of citizens are not unduly curtailed.
Legislative measures, such as the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the
recent introduction of the Data Protection Act, 2023, reflect a dynamic response
to the challenges posed by technological advancements. These legislative
frameworks address issues like data protection and cybersecurity, aligning legal
provisions with the realities of the digital era. The Data Protection Act, in
particular, aims to regulate the processing of personal data and establish
rights for individuals over their data, reinforcing the commitment to privacy
and data security.
The Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, introduced in response to the
shortcomings of previous bills, holds significance in shaping the legal
landscape. Arising from the Supreme Court's affirmation of the 'Right to
in the K.S. Puttaswamy case (2015), the Act establishes a comprehensive
framework for the protection and processing of personal data. Its applicability
extends to digital personal data within India and extraterritorially in
connection with goods or services offered to Indian data principals. The Act
introduces principles governing consent, rights and duties of data principals,
obligations of data fiduciaries, and provisions for the transfer of personal
data outside India.
Judicial pronouncements, exemplified by cases like K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of
, play a pivotal role in interpreting and reinforcing constitutional
principles in the context of emerging challenges. The judiciary ensures that
legal frameworks, including specialized legislation like the Data Protection
Act, remain adaptive and responsive to the changing landscape of individual
rights. The interrelation between constitutional safeguards, legislative
measures, judicial decisions, and specific acts like the Data Protection Act
creates a comprehensive framework ensuring the protection and evolution of
individual rights in an ever-changing socio-technological landscape.
The Dark Web: An Overview
The dark web constitutes a hidden part of the internet, intentionally kept out
of the reach of conventional search engines and necessitating the use of an
anonymizing browser known as Tor for access. This section delves into the
intricacies of the dark web, shedding light on its definition, structure,
functionality, and the diverse activities that unfold within its concealed
What is the Dark Web?
The dark web stands as an unindexed segment of the internet, remaining invisible
to standard search engines. It necessitates specialized tools like the Tor
browser to navigate its depths. In a study conducted over five weeks in 2015,
researchers identified that 57% of 2,723 live dark web sites hosted illicit
material, showcasing its association with various forms of criminal activity.
Contrary to its ominous reputation, not all activities on the dark web are
illegal. Legitimate facets coexist, allowing users to engage in activities such
as joining a chess club or participating in Black Book, termed as the "Facebook
of Tor." It's crucial to recognize the dual nature of the dark web, encompassing
both illicit dealings and lawful interactions within its clandestine realms.
Structure and Functionality
The dark web is a subset of the deep web, intentionally concealed and
necessitating Tor for access. The deep web comprises internet content not
indexed by standard search engines, including password-protected or
subscription-based content. Estimates place the dark web at around 5% of the
total internet, hidden beneath the surface of the clear web accessible through
Navigating the dark web is not a straightforward task.
The Tor browser, functioning as an anonymizing tool, routes web requests through
a series of global proxy servers operated by volunteers. This process renders
the user's IP address unidentifiable and untraceable, contributing to the
unpredictable and often slow experience akin to the dark web's chaotic nature.
Activities on the Dark Web
The dark web hosts a spectrum of activities, ranging from legitimate to
nefarious. Criminal elements exploit its anonymity for various purposes, such as
trading credit card numbers, drugs, firearms, counterfeit money, and stolen
credentials. It serves as a marketplace for hacking services, allowing
individuals to hire hackers for diverse cyber activities. Despite its
association with illegal transactions, the dark web also accommodates legitimate
Users can access encrypted communication channels, privacy-focused
tutorials, and services catering to those seeking anonymity in regions with
restricted internet access. Intriguingly, the dark web is not only a hub for
illegal commerce but also a space where individuals can learn about privacy
protection, cryptocurrency, and engage in discussions on diverse topics
anonymously. Legitimate entities, including law enforcement and media
organizations, actively monitor the dark web for valuable insights, making it a
multifaceted and complex digital landscape.
Challenges to Individual Rights on the Dark Web
Navigating the dark web introduces individuals to a spectrum of challenges that
encroach upon their rights in a multifaceted manner. This section delves into
the myriad challenges faced by individuals attempting to preserve their rights
while engaging with the intricate dynamics of the dark web.
Cybercrime and Fraud
Within the dark web, a significant challenge emerges in the form of escalating
cybercrime and fraudulent activities. Illicit marketplaces become conduits for
the illicit trade of stolen personal information, credit card details, and other
sensitive data, thereby exposing individuals to the threats of identity theft
and financial harm.
The covert nature of transactions complicates the task of
victims seeking to trace and recover losses, exacerbating the jeopardy posed to
their digital security and privacy rights. Perpetrators exploit online system
vulnerabilities, deploy malware, and orchestrate phishing attacks, compromising
individuals' rights to digital security and privacy.
The clandestine environment
of the dark web serves as a breeding ground for the creation and distribution of
sophisticated cyber threats, continually challenging the protection of
individual rights in the digital realm.
Illicit Trade and Transactions
The dark web acts as a hub for illegal trade, offering an array of prohibited
goods and services, ranging from drugs to firearms and hacking tools. The
anonymity provided by the dark web facilitates these transactions, making it
arduous for law enforcement agencies to intervene effectively. The trade in such
items not only endangers public safety but also infringes upon individuals'
rights to live in a secure and lawful society.
The surreptitious nature of these
transactions poses a direct challenge to regulatory frameworks designed to
shield individuals from harm. As a result, individuals may find their rights to
physical safety and well-being compromised by the unregulated and illicit
activities prevalent on the dark web.
Threats to Privacy and Anonymity
While the dark web offers a sanctuary for those seeking privacy in regions with
restricted internet access, it concurrently poses threats to the privacy and
anonymity of individuals navigating its depths. Malicious actors exploit the
veil of anonymity to engage in activities violating the rights of others, such
as cyberstalking, doxing, and harassment.
The challenge lies in striking a
balance between the legitimate use of the dark web for privacy protection and
the prevention of malicious activities that infringe upon the rights of
individuals. As technology evolves, ensuring the preservation of privacy rights
becomes an ongoing challenge, especially in an environment where individuals may
inadvertently become victims or unwitting participants in illicit schemes.
Instances of data breaches in India
- In January 2021, Juspay fell victim to a data breach, resulting in the
exposure of sensitive information belonging to approximately 10 crore
cardholders. The compromised data, including email IDs, mobile numbers, and card
transaction details, was openly traded on the dark web, with the transaction
amount remaining undisclosed.
- March 2021 witnessed the Mobikwik data breach, exposing sensitive details of
3.5 million users. The data, available for sale on the dark web, encompassed KYC
details, addresses, phone numbers, and Aadhar card information. In response to
the incident, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) directed the digital wallet firm
to undergo a forensic audit facilitated by a CERT-IN (Indian Computer Emergency
Response Team)-empanelled auditor.
- April 2021 saw Domino's India grappling with a data breach involving the
compromise of sensitive information related to around 18 crore orders. The
breached data was made available on the dark web for purchase, presented as a
searchable database. Alon Gal, CTO of cybersecurity firm Hudson Rock, disclosed
on Twitter that the data was traded for approximately Rs 4.5 crore in bitcoins.
- Big Basket, a victim of a confirmed November 2020 data breach, faced
another setback in April 2021 when its data was allegedly leaked on the dark
web. The exposed information, affecting over 20 million customers, included
email addresses, names, birth dates, hashed passwords, and phone numbers.
The database's size was estimated at around 3.25 GB, and the hacker group
Shiny Hunters facilitated the distribution of this data on the dark web for
Law enforcement agencies and policymakers grapple with formidable regulatory
challenges concerning the dark web, primarily due to its encryption techniques
and pervasive anonymity. The entirely anonymous nature of the dark web
environment complicates efforts to gather sufficient information for combating
cybercrimes and tracking criminals exploiting this space.
The absence of a
universal definition of cyber terrorism further confounds intelligence agencies,
making it difficult to determine the jurisdiction of these crimes. The
multi-dimensional dangers of cyberspace, interlinked and complex, pose
additional hurdles in regulatory efforts. In addition to robust encryption
techniques, most financial transactions on the dark web are conducted in cryptocurrencies, further enhancing anonymity.
technology, blockchain, serves as a digital ledger of transactions distributed
across the network, cryptographically securing blocks of information in a way
that makes system modification or hacking challenging. Cybercriminal groups,
such as Darkside and REvil, demand ransom amounts in cryptocurrency, making it
challenging for law enforcement to follow the money trail and gather evidence.
Regulating cryptocurrencies is feasible only in terms of their legitimate use,
leaving a substantial portion susceptible to illegitimate purposes. Monitoring
the cryptocurrency chain necessitates a well-defined categorization of
centralized and decentralized roles in financial transactions.
emerging technology, demands increased expertise in the field for effective
regulation. Another regulatory challenge involves the transient nature of most
dark web sites, active for periods ranging from 200 to 300 days or less than two
months. Tracking these ephemeral sites adds to the complexity of regulatory
Successful Takedowns of Dark Web Sites
- Operation Paris (OpParis): Launched by Anonymous in the aftermath of the 2015
Paris attacks, OpParis led to the takedown of hundreds of dark web websites
associated with ISIS.
- Kirill Victorovich Firsov: A Russian citizen imprisoned for 30 months for his
role in selling stolen credit card information and other data on the dark web,
contributing to various criminal activities.
- Slilpp' Takedown: On June 11, 2021, the Tor-based market on the Dark Web known
as 'Slilpp,' involved in dealing stolen credentials, was shut down.
- FIN7 Cybercrime Group: A Ukrainian national linked to the FIN7 cybercrime
group, responsible for stealing over $1 billion from U.S. citizens and
organizations, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and ordered to pay $2.5
- Binance Cryptocurrency Exchange: Ukrainian police, aided by advanced data
analytics from Binance cryptocurrency exchange, tracked down money launderers
associated with criminal scams on the dark web.
- REvil Gang Data Sites: On July 13, 2021, data sites associated with the REvil
gang on the dark web became unreachable, sparking speculation about prohibitions
imposed by law enforcement or potential self-disbandment.
The dark web presents a nuanced landscape, offering both advantages and
disadvantages contingent on its use or exploitation by individuals. While the
darknet safeguards the right to freedom of information and online privacy,
journalists and activists worldwide use it for secure communication.
approach by law enforcement agencies is imperative, simultaneously preserving
the benefits of this space and eradicating illegal activities. Collaborative
efforts between public and private organizations can address emerging
technological challenges posed by the dark web, introducing solutions such as
innovative encryption tools.
The proactive integration of sophisticated
technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning is essential for
law enforcement agencies. Addressing recurrent data breach incidents requires
specific regulations on the collection of personal data by companies, with
automatic deletion after a stipulated time period. Such regulations can enhance
the efficiency of cyber systems, securing data and preventing future incidents.
The challenges posed by the trans-border nature of the dark web can be mitigated
through intelligence data sharing across sectors, agencies, and organizations.
International cooperation, facilitated through multilateral exchanges, seminars,
forums, and joint capacity-building exercises, proves highly beneficial in
addressing these challenges.
Balancing privacy and security is a critical ethical consideration in the realm
of the dark web. While the dark web is often associated with illicit activities
and poses significant security concerns, it is essential to navigate the fine
line between enhancing security measures and respecting individuals' right to
privacy. Striking this balance requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the
legitimate uses of the dark web, such as safeguarding freedom of information and
enabling secure communication for journalists and activists.
In addressing the
ethical dilemma, policymakers and law enforcement agencies must develop
frameworks that prioritize privacy without compromising overall security. This
involves implementing targeted measures that specifically target illegal
activities without infringing on the privacy rights of law-abiding individuals.
Transparency in the implementation of such measures is crucial to maintaining
public trust and ensuring that privacy considerations are at the forefront of
Moreover, fostering public awareness about the
ethical considerations of balancing privacy and security is paramount. Educating
individuals about the potential risks and benefits associated with the dark web
can empower them to make informed choices regarding their online activities.
This, in turn, contributes to a more vigilant and privacy-conscious online
Ethical Use of Dark Web Intelligence
The ethical use of dark web intelligence is another dimension that demands
careful consideration. While the dark web harbours criminal activities, the
information obtained from this space should be handled ethically and
responsibly. Law enforcement agencies, cybersecurity professionals, and other
entities engaged in monitoring the dark web must adhere to strict ethical
guidelines to prevent misuse of the gathered intelligence.
rights extends to the ethical handling of information acquired from the dark
web. This includes ensuring that only relevant and necessary data is collected,
avoiding indiscriminate surveillance, and safeguarding the anonymity of
individuals not involved in criminal activities. Striking a balance between the
need for intelligence gathering and ethical considerations requires the
establishment of clear protocols and oversight mechanisms.
international collaboration is vital to establish a unified set of ethical
standards for the use of dark web intelligence. Shared ethical frameworks can
facilitate effective cooperation among different countries and organizations,
ensuring that the fight against cybercrime is conducted with integrity and
respect for human rights.
Ethical considerations in the dark web domain involve
finding the delicate equilibrium between enhancing security measures and
upholding individuals' right to privacy. This necessitates informed
policymaking, public awareness, and ethical guidelines for the responsible use
of intelligence gathered from the dark web.
Future Trends and Recommendations
Predictions for the Evolution of the Dark Web
Darknet markets have experienced significant growth in popularity, particularly
following the well-publicized takedown of the Silk Road marketplace in October
2013. This event led to a surge in users seeking drugs and various illicit
services on Darknet platforms worldwide.
The demand for such items prompted the
emergence of numerous marketplaces across the Darknet. Initially centred around
drugs, these markets expanded to include forbidden items like weapons, credit
cards, and malicious services such as malware, DDoS-as-a-service, and data
dumps, as they ventured into territories the Silk Road avoided.
estimated 2 million users access the Tor network daily, showcasing the
widespread popularity of Darknet markets. The network's appeal is attributed to
significant funding and academic scrutiny over the years. Accessing and running
a hidden service on the Onion network is relatively straightforward,
contributing to its accessibility. However, this ease of access comes with
Many individuals turn to the Onion network seeking
anonymity and obfuscation for their activities, aiming to operate with minimal
traces. Despite these intentions, users, including criminals, are susceptible to
errors and face challenges. The year 2017 has been marked by various events
within the Onion network, with an increase in raids and takedowns as global law
enforcement intensifies its efforts. Market operators and vendors are not only
subject to law enforcement scrutiny but also face threats from competition,
rogue users, vigilantes, and extortionists aiming to profit by exposing
administrators' personal details and marketplace vulnerabilities.
One notable incident occurred in February, where a vigilante hacker targeted
Freedom Hosting 2, a major Dark web hosting provider, which hosted child
pornography. The hacker not only took down the hosting provider but also exposed
databases and private keys in a public dump, affecting over 10,000 hidden
services-approximately a fifth of the Onion network. This incident illustrates
the complex landscape of Darknet markets, where legal actions and internal
conflicts intertwine with the constant pursuit of anonymity.
The evolution of the dark web is anticipated to follow several trends in the
Increased Use of Decentralized Technologies: The adoption of decentralized technologies, such as blockchain, may become more prevalent on the dark web. These technologies provide enhanced anonymity and security, making it challenging for authorities to trace and monitor activities.
Rise of Alternative Cryptocurrencies: While Bitcoin has been the preferred currency for transactions on the dark web, the emergence of alternative cryptocurrencies may diversify financial transactions. Privacy-focused cryptocurrencies may gain popularity, further complicating efforts to track and regulate illicit financial activities.
Expansion of Illicit Marketplaces: Dark web marketplaces are likely to evolve and expand, offering a broader range of illegal goods and services. The anonymity provided by the dark web attracts various criminal elements, and as technology advances, these marketplaces may become more sophisticated in their operations.
Integration of Artificial Intelligence: Cybercriminals may leverage artificial intelligence (AI) for more sophisticated attacks and to optimize their operations. AI tools could be employed for tasks such as automating cyber-attacks, evading detection, and enhancing the overall efficiency of criminal activities on the dark web.
Strategies for Strengthening Individual Rights Protection
- Enhanced Cybersecurity Education: Individuals should be educated about the risks associated with the dark web, emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity measures. This includes promoting the use of strong, unique passwords, implementing two-factor authentication, and staying informed about potential threats.
- Collaborative International Efforts: Governments and law enforcement agencies should engage in collaborative international efforts to combat cybercrime originating from the dark web. Sharing intelligence, coordinating investigations, and establishing common legal frameworks can enhance the collective ability to protect individual rights.
- Technological Innovations for Privacy: The development and promotion of privacy-focused technologies can empower individuals to protect their online privacy. This includes the use of encrypted communication tools, virtual private networks (VPNs), and privacy-focused browsers to mitigate the risks associated with the dark web.
- Adaptive Legal Frameworks: Legal frameworks must adapt to the evolving nature of the dark web and cyber threats. Regular updates to legislation and the introduction of new laws that specifically address emerging challenges can provide authorities with the necessary tools to combat illegal activities while safeguarding individual rights.
- Promotion of Ethical Hacking: Ethical hacking practices can be encouraged to identify vulnerabilities in online systems, including those on the dark web. By collaborating with ethical hackers and security researchers, organizations can proactively address potential weaknesses and enhance overall cybersecurity.
The intricate interplay between the Tor network, individual rights, and the dark
web presents a multifaceted landscape that demands careful consideration and
balanced approaches. The Tor network, born out of a government initiative for
secure communication, evolved into a tool offering both refuge and risk.
it provides a sanctuary for privacy seekers and those living under oppressive
regimes, the dark web, operating within its folds, poses significant challenges
to individual rights. The constitutional foundation of individual rights in
India, particularly the right to privacy, has been reinforced through landmark
judicial decisions and legislative measures like the Digital Personal Data
Protection Act, 2023.
These frameworks aim to strike a delicate balance between
protecting citizens' freedoms and addressing the challenges posed by the digital
age. However, the dark web introduces a new dimension to these challenges,
testing the efficacy of legal safeguards in a realm intentionally designed to
elude conventional oversight.
Challenges to individual rights on the dark web
manifest in the form of cybercrime, illicit trade, and threats to privacy and
anonymity. Incidents of data breaches in India underscore the real-world
consequences of these challenges, exposing individuals to identity theft and
financial harm. Regulatory efforts to combat dark web activities face formidable
obstacles, from encryption techniques to the transitory nature of dark web
Successful takedowns of dark web sites, while commendable, highlight the
persistent cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and those exploiting the
anonymous environment. Looking ahead, the dark web's evolution is anticipated to
involve increased use of decentralized technologies, alternative cryptocurrencies, and the integration of artificial intelligence. Strengthening
individual rights protection in this evolving landscape requires a holistic
This includes enhanced cybersecurity education, collaborative
international efforts, the development of privacy-focused technologies, adaptive
legal frameworks, and the promotion of ethical hacking practices. In navigating
the complexities of the dark web, governments, law enforcement agencies, and
individuals must remain vigilant.
Striking a balance between preserving the
benefits of privacy and anonymity and curtailing criminal activities requires
ongoing cooperation, technological innovation, and a commitment to upholding
fundamental rights. The future calls for a proactive and adaptive approach to
safeguard individual rights in the face of emerging challenges posed by the
ever-evolving landscape of the dark web.
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