Cybersecurity professionals are coming up short in their understanding of blockchain and cryptocurrency, according to William Callahan, a retired Special Agent of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, and one of the Keynote speakers at the Southern California Virtual Cybersecurity Summit on March 10-11.

His presentation is titled “Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology in a Public Underground World.”

Callahan, who inspired by watching Miami Vice as a kid growing up in New Jersey, pursued a long career with the Drug Enforcement Agency at various posts across the country, ranging from St. Louis to the D.C. metro and New York. Through his career, he watched the old drug street crime moving out of the dark alleyways and onto the Dark Web.

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THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE DARK WEB

But the Dark Web hasn’t always been a seedy underground of illicit drugs, scams and counterfeiting. Tor, or onion routing, was actually an invention of the United States government in the mid-1990s. The initial intention, according to Callahan, was to ensure safe file-sharing.

“It’s also useful for people in countries where free speech and the internet is suppressed,” Callahan said. And despite the nefarious people who often find their way onto the dark web, it is still useful for those purposes, he said.

The principles behind cryptocurrency, namely Bitcoin, are also certainly not all for illegal transactions. In fact, it makes commerce between individuals in different countries much easier now.

“Cryptocurrency was used to transfer value as a form of payment method — a semi-anonymous way to pay for things, Callahan said. “It allows people to speak in the same currency in two different countries without having to use the banking system. And that can be converted relatively easily into fiat currency.”

One of the breakthrough technologies on which cryptocurrencies are built is called blockchain. This is a major buzzword in the tech industry, particularly among start-ups trying to use this peer-to-peer distributed leger technology (DLT) where data is stored across a variety of servers.

The transactional transparency offered by blockchain is extremely promising in a variety of areas, Callahan said.

“That’s where the value is. The blockchain is a decentralized — it’s kept by all people on the network. Anybody can become part of that. There, there’s real value for data storage, for smart contracts, supply chain management,” Callahan said. “Once something is added to the blockchain, you can’t change it without a 51% majority. We’ll see more and more contracts, real estate transactions on blockchain.”

…AND THE DARK SIDE OF THE DARK WEB

Rather than exchanging cash for drugs in a park late at night, people are able to access drugs with relative anonymity through sites on the Dark Web, in exchange for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Because of the smaller quantities these drugs are purchased in — usually not more than a pound or two per transaction — these are being sent via normal shipping services like UPS, FedEx and USPS, Callahan said. The transactions are easy, but the product is often the result of counterfeiting.

This has resulted in many very dangerous situations for those who end up taking the illicit drugs, he said. 

And it’s not just drugs — during the pandemic, items like personal protective equipment, treatment medications for COVID-19 and vaccines have quickly surfaced on the Dark Web. It’s rare that these items are legitimate if found on the Dark Web, he said.

“They’re selling anything that’s in demand that can be counterfeited,” Callahan said. “You’re playing right into people’s emotions.”

These problems are magnified in countries where the medical supply chain is not as reliable and stable as it is in the United States. The basic level of trust in our government keeps Americans protected from falling into a level of need where they’re seeking supplies on the Dark Web.

But Callahan said he’s always left the communities he’s worked with one critical piece of advice: do not take anything that isn’t prescribed by your doctor and filled by your pharmacist.

 

THE PERSONAL SIDE

The number of people suffering from opioid addiction is overwhelming, and unfortunately, access to drugs on the Dark Web is enabling this national crisis. Easy access to drugs-by-mail is putting synthetic and counterfeit drugs in the hands of young people and addicts, perpetuating a crisis that law enforcement and the medical community have been working to tamp down.

The crisis is reaching critical mass with the new, easy accessibility to drugs — which are often counterfeit and extremely dangerous — particularly when it comes to drugs like Fentanyl and other narcotic medications.

“Painkillers have become a major drug of choice on the dark web,” Callahan said. “They’re being bought and paid for on the dark web … It’s really changed the way drugs are bought and delivered.”

And while it’s important to pay attention to the cybersecurity-intensive parts of Callahan’s presentation, he’ll also be sharing information on the current Fentanyl crisis that will be vital for you, your families and loved ones.

WHY TRAINING IS VITAL

Callahan looks forward to bringing his knowledge of blockchain and cryptocurrency to the Data Connectors Southern California audience, and while attendees will certainly walk away with more information and understanding than when they first tune in, he encourages additional training. Your company might not need it today, but if a breach happens, it’s vital to have a resource on your team who can help make sense of what to do, he said.

“Training on blockchain may be a good investment in time and money. It’s not like a break-in where you can call the police; it will take specialized units to come in,” Callahan said. “There may be something on you or your department to understand. Who has that knowledge?  Do they know how to do a blockchain analysis when one might be needed?”

Callahan has a number of suggestions for trainings, but he is sharing one particular offer thanks to his partnership with the Blockchain Intelligence Group. To receive training as a Certified Cryptocurrency Investigator, first sign up for the SoCal Virtual Cybersecurity Summit and then visit blockchaingroup.io and use discount code SoCal2021BC through March 31, 2021 for 35% off. 

This is an eight-hour online self-paced course which will give you a fuller understanding on cryptocurrency, blockchain and the dark web. 

Be sure to join the Southern California Virtual Cybersecurity Summit to hear more from Callahan, and come prepared with your questions and comments. His keynote will be presented live on Wednesday, March 10 at 12:00 p.m. PT. 

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