Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking markets continue to drop off the Deep &
Dark Web (DDW), criminals are migrating more and more to encrypted
chat-services platforms for communication and commerce.
operating in either language have been scarce and have been shutting down due
to poor sales and/or management. Buyers and sellers who bypassed markets and
used underground forums to meet, were finalizing negotiations or communicating
directly instead over encrypted platforms.
While this is a stark contrast to operators in Eastern Europe and North America who still heavily trade on the DDW, criminals in Latin America prefer the convenience and relatively high levels of baseline security found in encrypted chat apps. Some of this is due to a relative lack of technological sophistication within the region.
Socioeconomic Reasons to Choose Chat over DDW
To fully understand the
migration to chat services as it begins to replace the role of the DDW in Latin
America, one must consider a number of factors. Mobile networking has a high
adoption rate in the region, largely because of relatively low costs compared
to computers, for example. Regional adoption of mobile apps for daily
communication is also relatively high in the region, as is the availability and
uptime of the major applications.
There’s also a perceived
lack of law enforcement action affecting cybercrime in the region; Mexico, for
example, has no formal cybercrime laws on its books. A 2017 IDG Connect article points out that Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru
had yet to sign aboard the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the first
international treaty addressing cybercrime, inaugurated in 2001. Despite
hosting workshops and establishing CERTs in the region, countries have failed
to ratify their participation in the convention or enact their own cybercrime
The same holds somewhat true for Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking nation in Latin America. Despite an emerging economy and heavy investment in technology and connectivity, Brazil has also done relatively little to address cybercrime via legislation.
Portuguese-Speaking Communities Seeing Similar Trends
For many of the same
reasons as other LatAm countries, there is also a limited presence of
Portuguese-language communities on the DDW, many of whom have also flocked to
encrypted chat applications for daily communication. Brazil has highest global
daily use of messaging platforms. Last October, one of the few
Portuguese-speaking markets in the region shut down and in a notice to its
users, it said customers’ insistence on using a particular encrypted chat
application for business as a big reason for the shutdown.
While for criminals there
are numerous advantages to using encrypted chat for communication, it’s not an
ideal platform for commerce. Unlike markets or forums where prospective buyers
may be vetted and identities are verified, chat applications lack the same type
of mechanism. In addition, there are no multisig wallets bringing added
security to the use of cryptocurrency in transactions; also if cryptocurrency
is used, there is no recommended or available cryptocurrency tumblers part and
parcel to a chat app. In fact, in Latin American communities, cryptocurrency is
often secondary to traditional payment processors, further indicating a lack of
law enforcement oversight and the ability for criminals to choose convenience
over security in these instances. Finally, many markets also offer buyers and
sellers the ability to provide feedback or recourse for negative experiences,
which is lacking on chat apps.
It appears that
encrypted messaging applications serve two purposes within the Latin American
cybercrime community. They serve as alternate communication channels to
supplement DDW forums, and in some instances, they entirely replace DDW
communications. Multiple threat actors choose to have Channels or Chats that
serve a similar function of a room or thread, within a forum. Some actors will
additionally choose to progressively share advertisements within a chat
channel, similar to how one would advertise on a forum or marketplace. As a
result, this migration to encrypted chat in Latin America figures to continue
for the time being as these secure messaging applications continue to supersede
DDW markets in the regions for criminals wishing to finalize transactions.