CINCINNATI -- The federal government is partnering with local law enforcement throughout Ohio to wrangle the high-tech lowlives who offer shady services on the dark web.
"It's equivalent to walking into back alleys at night and looking for your drug dealer," app developer Jeff Holtmeier said. "You're just doing it from the comfort of your home."
The dark web comprises unindexed sites that exist apart from the web occupied by sites such as Amazon and Facebook, and it's harder to access. Not everything that happens there is a crime -- in countries with censorious governments, it can even be a place for free expression -- but it's known primarily in the United States for being a platform on which users peddle illegal substances and services.
Much of the marketplace comprises drug transactions.
"It's a big epidemic now," Homeland Security Agent-in-Charge George Dolce said. "A lot of the narcotics that we get coming into the United States in terms of fentanyl and carfentanil, they're coming from overseas."
Another portion? Stolen personal information, including email addresses or credit card numbers. Holtmeier's app, Hulikao, searches the dark web and alerts users if their information has become a commodity.
Those users can then cancel the affected credit cards and change their email passwords to avoid becoming the victims of further theft.
Holtmeier acknowledged permanently stopping large dark web operations is difficult without the intervention of law enforcement, and sometimes not even then if servers are located offshore. However, he said, any individual who uses it for illegal commerce is probably being watched.
"While these are anonymous sites that are out there, you're not anonymous when you're out searching," he said. "Often times, federal government, law enforcement, they're watching people who are on the deep and dark web."