Nuclear Proliferation via Darknet Markets?

If there was a website where you could buy cocaine, AK47s, tasers, guides to stealing and hacking, or fake American passports, why wouldn’t you be able to buy something worse? What would stop the site from selling you the kit you would need to go nuclear?

Micro Curie Polonium-210 Source from AlphaBay

Micro Curie Polonium-210 Source from AlphaBay

Since 2014 work has highlighted the problem posed by ecommerce to nuclear [here at ICSA and by our colleagues at project alpha] and biological export control regimes. A wide variety of export controlled items from the Nuclear Suppliers Group lists, that control the goods you would need to build a nuclear weapon, were found to be freely available on ecommerce sites such as Significantly, these analyses did not include the darknet markets, notorious platforms used for the exchange of illegal goods.

After Silk Road

Since the takedown of Silk Road 2.0 by the FBI in 2013 darknet markets, sometimes known as cryptomarkets, have continued to operate. Since the death of the Silk Road brand, which was estimated at the time of its closure be making 92,000 USD a month for its operators, no single site has dominated traffic and as of December 2015 there are over 20 filling Silk Road‘s gap in the market. No site currently in operation was online before December 2013, highlighting the nature of the cat-and-mouse game being played out between the markets and the authorities. Analyses of the contents and users of these markets in the past have focused on drugs and conventional criminal activity, such as hacking and fraud, with no analysis yet performed on export controlled equipment and materials. In a recent excellent analysis by another group of colleagues at King’s which took a broad look at darknet content, included work on classifying darknet sites.

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Gain of function research: what is it and why should we care?

If mishandled, there is a very real danger that progressive scientific technology could have disastrous societal impacts. Of particular concern is gain-of-function research. A well-established methodology in microbiology and genetics, its application to infectious disease agents with pandemic potential has been called into serious question. My blog will briefly explore the importance of this technical issue, the associated biosafety and biosecurity risks and conclude with key policy considerations for making the most of the technology.

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Paris Terrorist Attack: Black Swan or Perfect Storm?

On Friday, 13 November 2015, France suffered the worst terrorist attack in its modern history as Islamic State (IS) gunmen and suicide bombers simultaneously attacked the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France football stadium, and restaurants and bars in Paris’s popular nightlife spots, leaving some 130 people dead and hundreds seriously injured.

As France, and indeed the rest of the world, seeks to make sense of this terrible event, two questions dominate the discussion, and indeed the headlines: could the attack have been prevented and what can we do to protect ourselves against future occurrences?

The answers, it seems to me, depends on whether or not one regards such events as Black Swans or Perfect Storms.

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Continuity and Change in Saudi Arabia’s Leadership Transition

Post by Rachel Hoffman,  Research Intern at the International Centre for Security Analysis.

Just before the New Year, King Abdullah was admitted to a hospital with breathing difficulties later attributed to pneumonia. In the weeks that followed, officials half-heartedly attempted to reassure the world of Abdullah’s improvement, but on January 23 came the news that many suspected as imminent – King Abdullah had passed away and his half-brother, Crown Prince Salman, had become king.

International scrutiny of Salman began immediately, with comparisons between him and Abdullah and predictions regarding his policy priorities flooding the Internet. From the abundance of reports emerged the certainty that, above all, continuity will be a central theme of his rule. The new monarch quickly pledged to continue King Abdullah’s main domestic and foreign policies. The nearly unchanged composition of the cabinet of ministers supported the idea of continuity with fears that sharp policy changes could cause instability in Saudi Arabia which currently faces severe economic and political risks. Continue reading

A New Form of Warfare? Implications of the Cyber Attack on Sony

For further discussion around this issue, listen to our podcast.

‘I fear I’ve let you all down. Not my intention. I apologize,’ lamented George Clooney in an email released to the public as part of a massive cyber-attack on Sony. ‘I’ve just lost touch. Who knew?’

While the attack caused a stir in the entertainment industry, it also has significant implications for the cyber-security landscape. Groups such as Anonymous have long been hacking government agencies, media companies and other targets of their choosing, but the Sony attack is notable for having reportedly been carried out by a state. This poses questions about the capacities of various states to launch attacks over cyberspace, as well as regarding issues of retaliation, proportionality and the absence of rules of engagement. Continue reading