Beneath the surface web, the public form of the internet you use daily to check email or read news articles, exists a concealed “dark web.” Host to anonymous, password-protected sites, the dark web is where criminal marketplaces thrive in the advertising and selling of weapons, drugs, and trafficked persons. Law enforcement agencies work continuously to stop these activities, but the challenges they face in investigating and prosecuting the real-world people behind the users who post on these sites are tremendous.

“The pop-up nature of dark-web marketplaces makes tracking their participants and their activities extremely difficult,” says Charlie Dagli, a researcher in MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Artificial Intelligence Technology and Systems Group. Dagli is referring to the fast rate at which dark-web markets close down (because they are hacked, raided, abandoned, or set up as an “exit scam” in which the site shuts down intentionally after customers pay for unfulfilled orders) and new ones appear. These markets’ short lifetimes, from a few months to a couple years, impede efforts to identify their users. READ MORE ON: MIT NEWS